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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Was the PM protecting lawbreakers?

I borrow my caption today from Reginald Dumas' Saturday Express opinion piece.

There were several major and unfortunate statements made by the Prime Minister in the speaking time that he managed to appropriate recently.  The Cleaver Woods Project matter is one that will sort itself out mathematically, or not.  It appears to be the beginning of another tale of woe involving Emile Elias and NH International.  In the earlier matter of Landate/Landsend and the Scarborough Hospital, Dr. Rowley and family had been subsequently vindicated, but many questions still remain about the contractor's practices.  Issued under the cover of Parliamentary privilege, like many other allegations there cast, this item may never go any further.

The statement that worries me however is the allegation that an Opposition member had irregular and improper (illegal?) access to confidential Integrity Commission files and documents four years ago, and that the Prime Minister not only knew, but that there was proof of the infraction and he decided to hold onto that intelligence.

Which "security agency" was asked to look into the matter really is immaterial; SAUTT has since declared in writing that it was not them.  It could have been officers of the Police, the investigative arm of the Army, or a private security firm.  In the latter case, there are questions of admissibility of evidence dependent on how proof was obtained.  The fact is that there was proof and it may have been possible to build a criminal case against the sitting Member of Parliament for Siparia and leading United National Congress member.

Four years ago though would have put this alleged infraction square in the middle of both the Basdeo Panday Integrity trial, a matter in which Kamla was involved as defense counsel, and former Chief Justice Sat Sharma's attempted impeachment and criminal prosecution.  It was a time in the country's history where, once again, there were loud cries that people of East Indian descent were being persecuted, at this point by direct action of the Government of the day.  Had the Prime Minister turned what he had discovered over to the Police or Director of Public Prosecutions, MP Persad-Bissessar would have been added to the list of high-raking ranking East Indians in the country facing prosecution, and possibly fines and imprisonment.

Frankly, it would have been a move considered politically expedient to keep this additional affair quiet, especially with the amount of international attention that both the Panday and Sharma matters, particularly the latter, had already received.  The Prime Minister would have had a serious choice to make.  He would either have to:

  1. permit MP Persad-Bissessar to continue on unaware that anyone knew what she was doing, 
  2. pull her up privately, then embroiling himself further in matters that it was already being said that he had too much involvement, or
  3. say that the Devil may care what the public and international community thinks and turn the evidence over for the lady to be prosecuted for her alleged crime.

It's clear at this late stage that - unless Mrs. Persad-Bissessar comes forward and admits to a conversation with PM Manning, thus implicating herself - that he chose option 1.

This begs the question though, that if it were politically expedient to "protect" Kamla Persad-Bissessar then as he indicated, why raise the matter now?

The fact is though that the matter has been raised, and in the public interest, there are machinations that we must and absolutely must now go through.

Firstly, the evidence of Mrs. Persad-Bissessar's alleged infraction and that of her alleged informer must be produced and turned over to the relevant authorities.  If this is not done, then the Prime Minister should face censure before the Privileges Committee of the Parliament.  I say "should" here because I am not familiar with the Standing Orders, but in my personal view, criminal allegations should not be covered by Parliamentary privilege.

Secondly, if evidence of the alleged infraction is produced and it is sufficient to build a case and have a charge or charges laid, then the Member for Siparia must defend herself against such properly laid charge in a Court of Law.

It matters not what people's opinions of Patrick Manning the man are.  There is an allegation on the table for which there may be supporting evidence.  Manning's levels of arrogance and intelligence are nothing but red herrings in a very grave matter, and focus on those is diversionary.

It is unfortunate for him though that he puts this into the public domain, because he's now beholden to follow up.  Protecting the MP for Siparia ended the instant the Prime Minister opened his mouth and put voice to what he claims to know.
ADDENDUM: The Standing Orders of the House of Representatives are available for download at http://parliament.gov.tt/publications.php?mid=33

EDIT: "raking" corrected to read "ranking".

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