Society steeped in corruption

By Raffique Shah
January 16, 2019

Raffique ShahSometime in 2017, I wrote a column in which I counselled Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to refrain from hurling allegations of corruption against ministers and senior officials of the People’s Partnership Government unless or until such time as some them have been charged with serious corruption-related criminal offences.

By then, I had reasoned, most citizens had grown fed up with such allegations being made by parties in power and those in opposition, with no proof produced as they exchanged places every five years from 1986 when the People’s National Movement was first voted out of office after a 30-year grip on power. The average person knew or believed there was rampant corruption involving PNM ministers, and the overwhelming vote they gave the National Alliance for Reconstruction was fuelled by expectations that they would finally see “big sawatees” hauled before the courts in handcuffs, with many of the crooks ending up behind bars like the common criminals they were.

Disappointment was all they got.

True, PNM chairman Boysie Prevatt and his partner-in-crime John Ou Wai fled to Panama, a country with which we had no extradition treaty. In fact, the only casualty from the 30-year reign of the ousted regime was the already deceased John O’Halloran, whose estate located in Canada, was taken before a court in that jurisdiction, found guilty of stealing from the public purse, and ordered to compensate the Trinidad & Tobago government a few million dollars.

Not another politician or public official from among the thousands who looted the public purse and flaunted their ill-gotten gains was ever charged with malfeasance. And had the O’Halloran matter been brought before a local court, chances are he too might have escaped unscathed—or likelier, have his matter still pending, 30-odd years later.

Being fair to the Ray Robinson-led NAR government, there were few allegations of corruption against its members. But bear in mind its stewardship coincided with the first post-independence recession, so there was little to steal. By 1991, when the Patrick Manning-led PNM returned to power and the IMF-imposed austerity measures brought about an uptick in the economy, one heard stories of small-scale stealing. By 1995, when Basdeo Panday’s United National Congress rode to power in a coalition with Robinson’s NAR, and the economy improved based on better energy prices, the floodgates of corruption were rent asunder by an avalanche of feral greed.

Before I go further, let me dispel a myth that Panday’s minions have peddled for so many years, they actually believe it: that WTI crude fetched US $9 per barrel, and magician Panday “ran the country successfully on that (low) price”. Oil may have dipped to that price a few times in 1998. But here are the actual average annual prices: 1995-US $18.42; 1996-$22.16; 1997-$20.61; 1998-$14.30; 1999-$19.31; 2000-$30.26; and 2001-$25.90.

Panday’s reign was reminiscent of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Greedy financiers, facilitated by corrupt public officials, looted the Treasury with abandon. Tens of millions of dollars, maybe more, were siphoned from projects such as the new Piarco Airport terminal. In a wave of nepotism hitherto unknown, huge contracts were awarded to associates of senior politicians for projects that the country did not need, and where vital infrastructural works were commissioned, the prices included hefty commissions to politicians and senior public officials.

So shameless and reckless were those who shared in the spoils of office, simple investigations conducted by the police fraud squad and anti-corruption bureau led to the arrests of some very prominent persons, with criminal charges laid against them. In the same investigations, but this time in the USA, three contractors from Florida were charged with bid-rigging and related offences (around 2005). They pleaded guilty, were fined hefty sums, and jailed for a few years.

As if that episode was not scandalous enough, Panday was hauled before the courts based on charges initiated by the Integrity Commission for failing to declare a bank account he held in London, UK. He claimed to have known nothing about the money or account, saying that his wife “handled such matters”. To add another dimension to just how boldfaced our public officials are, CL Financial’s head Lawrence Duprey admitted to have “donated” a significant sum to the Pandays for their children’s education in the UK.

Ex-PM Panday was later exonerated by a court here, not for his innocence, but because the Integrity Commission seemed to have unfairly targeted him. Bear in mind, too, that the Piarco accused, 15 years after they were charged for corruption in relation to a project that was completed 20 years ago, are still a long way from trial in a local justice system that seems frozen in time.

Fast-forwarding to more recent governments and allegations of corruption associated with them, no one fingered in Manning’s second and third stints in office (2002-2007, 2007-2010) has faced criminal charges for corruption-related offences, although the Kamla Persad-Bissessar-led PP government did file civil suits against several bureaucrats and state-enterprises directors, all of which, I believe, have floundered.

And except for charges laid by the police against ex-Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, three years after they were voted out of office, no other PP ex-minister or senior official has been arrested and charged with any criminal offence. All we hear are innuendos from the PM, AG Faris Al Rawi and Minister Stuart Young that “something” will happen soon.

I shan’t be surprised if nothing happens. Further, even if some senior PP officials are charged before the next local and general elections, it won’t make a difference with their supporters. Most of these latter openly say “better the crook (thieving PP) than the mook (non-performing PNM)”.

Hell, an indicator of just how this society has degenerated, how morality has dissipated in the fog of political mud-wrestling, consider the Jack Warner-led clamour for the return to the ring of Panday Baba and his however-many bandits.

We reach.

11 thoughts on “Society steeped in corruption”

  1. When one lose their parents by innocent means knowing that if they were abroad in a metropolitan country the outcome would have been different, then that thought leaves a bitter pill to swallow. Many lawyers in Trinidad getaway with murder and bold-facedly would always defend wealthy individuals or company’s interests ad lib especially where the dollars flow. The same can be said of some medical practitioners who prefer to deliver new born by Caesarean rather than natural birth i.e., not for health reasons but better cash flow in their private practise using surgical instruments obtained from the national hospitals.

    So politics do have a morality of it’s own here in T&T. What do we expect from other strata of society? I found myself lining up at the passport office in Knox St I was born in that same street in the 40s before moving to Donaldson St in the 50s and the people who were ahead of me in that line on the steps were young immigrants of all different background and cultural beginnings, no respect was ushered my way when I developed a faintish feeling and needed to sit. I just walked away.

    If bank managers or financial counsellors can tell you what to do with your money in the bank rather than listening to your instructions, if you ordered beef and got beans instead at a Chinese restaurant, but the roti, doubles, black pudding, etc. vendors can still understand you and call you uncle then automatically it registers there is a dramatic shift taking place in our place of abode.

    Money has now become the root of all evil and that is one of the reasons why there is so much slaughtering of human lives on the streets for reasons known to many. This has nothing to do with Big Sam or Colonialism it is what many of us have now begun to inculcate within our respective souls and refuse to listen to our own conscience. So rather pointing fingers at anyone we must begin to look at ourselves and how we are perceived by others from outside looking in.

    Sad to say corruption is entrenched in our lives and institutional systems and when you listen to many speak about us Trinis it is too degenerative to repeat. I do wish the Cop a speedy recovery because his efforts to begin the clean up is herculean indeed. the Integrity commission needs to dismiss itself to begin the healing process.

  2. Lt Shah

    With all due respect Mr Shah why have you omitted the Kamla (UNC) and the forty thieves in your article? Were they so clean and without any corruption? Why talk about Jack Warner’s call and not the alternative UNC corrupt politicians?

    DO you have a followup to this article to complete the corruption theme of Trinidad and Tobago?

  3. In keeping with the T&T personality of exaggeration and braggadocio, the Prime Minister recently exclaimed in his usual crude manner that the Kamla led government was the most corrupt in Commonwealth history.
    Where is the evidence? When are charges going to be filed against accused Ministers?
    Considering that this PM has one of the most hawkish attorney generals, why have no court cases been filed with supporting evidence.
    The PM should put up or shut up and end his political tirades as the silly election season approaches.

  4. Lieutenant it’s rather strange and comical you did not mention the “father of the nation”(or is he father of corruption).You also forget to mention de “all ah we tief” guy. He said all ah we(pnmites) tief. Why are you always attacking Panday? Did he or his party rule T&T for 50 years? Did Eric save you from the firing squad and have sworn to pnm loyalty? I guess this present rotweiller regime ain’t corrupt either. Pnm was not only corrupt they practice racial discrimination. Indians could not get gov’t jobs for donkey year under Eric. I could go on and on. I await some answers from you if you got any testicular fortitude left.

    1. Raft must sing for his supper. He is part of the old indian stock who practices “self hate”. Panday built schools started the “dollar for dollar” program that became GATE.

  5. The airport is the pride of the Caribbean, in fact the best in the Caribbean. It has already paid for itself. The witch hunt started by the PNM continues to this day an extravagant waste of money. Linguist report or probe cost $880 million. Then the never ending effort to send Ish & Steve to the US costing $220 million. That is $ 1 billion wasted in the PNM witch hunt. The so call airport inquiry aka witch hunt is still going on. The cost I am sure is in the multi-millions. Easy way for lawyers to full their pocket. They are emptying the treasury. When this inquiry comes to an end no one will go to jail and the idiots in the media will be none the wiser. The airport cost $1.6 billion. Lara Stadium $1.3 billion.

    Now tell where is the corruption when no one will go to jail.

    1. The Lara Stadium was supposed to cost around 300million TT Dollars. Now let’s ask ourselves this, how can a Stadium be estimated to cost 300million end up costing more than 500% more than the original cost. Did they use 5 times the steel, cement, workers hours etc?
      Or maybe they actually built 5 Stadiums and hid the other 4 somehwere.
      Imagine you hired the TT Gov to build a house for you and they estimate it will cost 3million, 1 year later construction still ongoing and the price done reach 15million, would you be saying the same stuff you saying here?
      Maybe, but I doubt it.

  6. relatives, friends ask me if i will ever return to trinidad, hell no i say, i want value for my hard earned retirement money, and not to mention , peace of mind

  7. When the Unc in power they accuse the past Pnm administration of corruption, when the Pnm in power they accuse the past Unc administration of corruption. We don’t want no accusations, we’ve heard them before and we know we can look forward to many more, we want prosecutions in a timely fashion. What we need is #1 the most stringent laws pertaining to procurement best practices and governance, so as to make corruption so difficult to do that they can’t get away with it. #2We need a anti corruption court specifically to deal with corrupt public officials and individuals who scammed the State. #3 Make corruption a capital offence. If a noose is waiting on the neck of a contractor, Gov Minister, accountant, Police officer etc. involved in bribery, fraud, money laundering, gang collusion etc. then maybe he/she/it may come to the conclusion that no bribe or profit is worth that END. #4 Some nations have a wall of pride for citizens who did great goods, we already honour our esteemed citizens with naming promenades, schools, roads, stadiums etc. after them, but what about recognizing those who shame our nation?let’s create a wall of shame for those people, especially those tried and convicted. They must be made famous for their crimes against the nation. Their names must be remembered. They might not care in the moment of the crime but they will care later when they find out their name,picture and their crimes are forever engraved into a public wall, a wall that will be in the hot caribbean sun for all to see long after they are dead and gone and they will hate it. Shame can be a successful deterrent and a educator for the law abiding.
    #5What if there was a law that resulted in a party being banned after corruption is proven, eg in the first instance a 5 year ban, second instance a 10 year ban and on the third instance that party and it’s representatives would be banned from all politics, gov contracts, gov jobs, parliament etc. for life, possibly even exiled from the country(literally thrown out of T&T). Surely every member of that party and especially the executive would take every action to prevent corruption because their own political existence & honour would be on the line.
    We need to get creative.

    I call these ”The Strong Hand Laws”. Our country needs a damn strong hand if we are to stamp out this evil corruption, and mark my words corruption destroys the ability of nations to prosper, we must be willing to to what must be done to push back hard against those who would rob us of our future.

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