Uproar among Trinidad’s politicians

Following upon revelations emanating from the United States, casting a shadow over the career of Mr Jack Warner, popular politician, heavyweight Minister and close advisor to the Trinidad Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, that forced his resignation not only from his ministry but also from his chairmanship of the ruling People’s Partnership coalition, Trinidad & Tobago seems engulfed with yet another suddenly arising political contention.

This time, the occurrence has been spurred by Leader of the Opposition Keith Rowley, who has claimed, under the privilege of speaking in Parliament, to have received a series of e-mails apparently dispatched by the Prime Minister, her National Security Adviser, former army captain and subsequently political functionary, Gary Griffith, and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan purporting to undermine the integrity of the judiciary and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar has in turn accused Rowley of using the cloak of the Parliament for politically opportunist actions, has threatened to take him before the House for misbehaviour in public office, and has appointed a senior police officer to investigate the matter. Though, having done so, both herself and her Attorney General have contracted other private investigators to deal with the allegations on their own behalf, and have released the results of these investigators’ work, which have indicated the e-mails to be hoaxes.

Such is the uproar – now described as an e-mailgate scandal ‒ induced by the verbal interventions of various legal and press personalities, some on behalf of the Prime Minister herself, that the Deputy Commissioner of Police has himself felt forced to appeal for a halt to the cross-talk, in order to allow his officers to conduct their work with some degree of equanimity.

But the situation has been further bedevilled by a revelation by the Attorney General himself that Leader of the Opposition Rowley had, as Ramlogan put it, sought the intervention of the Chairman of the Integrity Commission, well-known newspaper entrepreneur and former Minister of Industry Ken Gordon, in terms of discussing the matter and, obviously, his own approach, prior to making his revelation in Parliament.

The revelation has been like a red flag to the governemnt bull already in a chinashop, and has permitted the PM and her Attorney General to challenge the legality or validity of the Integrity Commission Chairman in having what they have described as a “secret meeting” with Rowley, especially as the President of the Republic was in the process of appointing new members to the Commission.

The revelation has allowed the Trinidad public to remind itself that the legitimacy of the Integrity Commission itself has been under fire for some time, its previous chairpersons over the last five years or so having resigned for what some deemed as infringements of their responsibilities; and its Deputy Chairperson, senior attorney Gladys Gafoor, having herself felt it necessary, under what she believed to be duress, to resign her position.

The revelation of Chairman Gordon’s “secret” meeting with Rowley, when put together with the previous contentions within, or about, the Commission, have led to further public concern, exactly at the point at which the President was about to name new members of the Commission so that it could reconstitute itself. So the demand from the government side has now become that Chairman Gordon should himself have resigned his position by now, giving the President a free hand to create what the public might accept as an Integrity Commission with a clean slate and full legitimacy.

From the government’s position, the call for Gordon’s resignation has clearly been meant to induce the recently-appointed President, a former judge of the Supreme Court, to consider the dismissal of the Chairman himself. For such an act would confirm the impression that they have wished to convey, that Gordon’s meeting with Rowley was wrong or at least ill-judged, with implications also for the appropriateness of  Rowley’s own sense of judgement and, obviously, political competence and  legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

By the time this editorial appears, the President will have taken the action that he has deemed appropriate. But it is unlikely that the continuing political furore rocking Trinidad will end there. New commissioners will have been appointed, but it is left to be seen if the government will be satisfied with a chairman in contention with them, still at the helm.

In the meantime, the by-election to soon be held in the PP-controlled constituency of Chaguanas, previously held by Jack Warner, will be fodder for yet another round of talk and counter-talk both within the ruling coalition and from the PNM.

On the other hand, if the President dismisses Chairman Gordon, Rowley’s own legitimacy as leader of the People’s National Movement will surely come under scrutiny, both within his party and among the general public.

But of course, subsequent to all this, there will be more fodder for thought, talk, action and political uproar, when the police authorities choose to reveal their own conclusions about the legitimacy of the e-mails. And then, one or other side will feel that it has a new chance to wind up the political noise-machine again.

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