Minister Broomes and the parking lot

The ordinary person is baffled by how power can so quickly corrupt the psyche of the average politician. It seems only yesterday that Minister Simona Broomes was lauded on all sides for her work in rescuing young girls who had been trafficked to the interior. The Americans too acknowledged her achievements by inviting her to Washington and giving her an award. And now, here she is in the midst of another public contretemps, this time relating to her behaviour in the parking lot of the Amazonia Mall at Providence on the East Bank, and her subsequent misrepresentation of what transpired there.

It is not, of course, the first time she has come to public attention as Minister for the wrong reasons; in one of her more lurid exploits, she even earned herself an indirect rebuke from the Speaker of the House of Assembly. Her real problem in this particular instance is that what happened at the parking lot was captured on video surveillance tape, and that her account of events does not correspond to that record.

As we reported on Tuesday, video footage shows the Minister’s vehicle turning into the parking lot and coming to a halt not far from the entrance to the Massy Supermarket. The man who appears to be driving then gets out, and removes what seems to be a no parking sign before re-entering the vehicle. Two guards can be seen a short distance away, one of whom appears to be armed with an assault rifle. The guard then goes over to the vehicle and returns the sign to its original space, following which the driver emerges from the vehicle again and has an exchange with the guard.

It is not long after this that a woman who is presumed to be Minister Broomes, comes out of the back of the vehicle and pushes two of the no parking signs to the ground before involving herself in a confrontation with the guard, who stands in front of the vehicle, while her driver attempts to proceed given that the signs have been removed.

The Junior Natural Resources Minister’s version of events would not be easily recognised from the footage. According to her account both she and her driver were verbally abused and threatened by the two security guards, as a consequence of which a complaint was made to the police. This caused the two guards to be held for 16 hours by the police. One of the guards who was interviewed by Stabroek News, Mr Josh Ramroop, said that neither he nor his colleague had pulled a gun on the Minister or her driver, as had been related to the police, and neither does the footage indicate that such was the case. The full nature of the exchange of words on either side, however, would not be revealed from the video, but even if the guards were discourteous, it does not excuse Ms Broomes’ behaviour.

According to our report on Wednesday, Mr Ramroop told this newspaper that he and the other guard had objected to the vehicle – which was heavily tinted – parking when it’s dark in a prohibited area, “because there is no real surveillance down there.” He went on to say that when they told the driver he could not park there, he “started to buse and cuss …[and] was being really arrogant and aggressive.” Shortly thereafter, he recounted, a woman emerged from the vehicle and “joined in,” and then grabbed one of the signs and threw it on the ground, following which the driver was instructed to proceed.

Inevitably, given the incongruity between what Ms Broomes reported to the police and what is on the tape, the media was anxious to hear what the Minister had to say. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she responded to the barrage of questions.

This is really not good enough; she is a public official who is accountable to the electorate, not a dictator’s appointee in a totalitarian state who is answerable to no one. This is one issue on which, sooner or later, she will be called to account; leaving aside the actual sequence of events, a senior representative of government cannot evade responding to allegations of having perverted the truth, more especially if that perversion landed two people in police detention for 16 hours.

But it was not just the Minister who seemed to be in deeper water than she recognised last week; there was also the matter of none other than Crime Chief Paul Williams who criticised the actions of the guards. The Guyana Chronicle reported him as saying that the security guards should have used their judgement to determine the class of person who was venturing on to the premises. “…from the time you see a vehicle of a certain standard, it is supposed to arouse your attention and alertness,” he was quoted as saying, going on to remark that as soon as the Minister identified herself they should have apologised and tried explaining their position in a different tone.

Well, this is extraordinary, and from the Crime Chief, no less. “Vehicle of a certain standard”, ‘class of person’ – what is he talking about? Is that how he advises his junior officers when investigating a case? If so, it would constitute evidence of unbelievable incompetence and lack of knowledge of standard investigative techniques. In addition, as we observed in our Thursday report, such comments are prejudicial to the investigation that the police are supposed to be conducting, and as such, one only hopes that the Minister of Public Security insists that he recuse himself from overseeing this particular investigation, and let it be handled at another level. What other consequences may attend his unacceptable remarks remain to be seen.

Of course, the media corps attempted to obtain comment from other ministers, including Minister of State Joseph Harmon, whom we reported as saying that the matter was still under investigation by the police and so he did not want to express a view. Minister of Social Protection Amna Ally also declined to comment, although we did quote her as adding the arguably artful observation, “All and sundry must observe the rule of law, whether you are a minister, you are an ordinary person; that is what is expected.”

Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence was altogether more forthcoming: “We didn’t come into government for issues like this; we came in to make changes,” we quoted her as saying. We also reported that earlier on her Facebook page she had recounted how she had encountered Mr Ramroop and had apologised to him. “Humility and wisdom are character traits we must always ask of our Creator,” she wrote. She emphasised that this had nothing to do with the fact she was seeking to become chairperson of the PNCR.

A lack of propriety is certainly not a feature of this government’s ministers alone; the previous one was no slouch in that department. Dr Bheri Ramsaran, the PPP/C’s Minister of Health lost his job in 2015 – admittedly for remarks in more than one location which went well beyond the definition of impropriety. However, the difference between him and Minister Broomes is that he did not deny what he had said inside a meeting where he thought his comments would stay private. And what he had said publicly outside was considered indictable.

It seems that after three years as a member of government Ms Broomes has not grasped that as a member of the administration she has to behave with propriety, and that it is also important she exhibit personal humility and courtesy when functioning as a minister. Furthermore, she is expected to abide by rules; they are not just for the little people. Most of all, she has to be honest in her pronouncements; she cannot behave as if she is so powerful that she cannot be crossed, and that if anyone does cross her, they will pay a price and she will dissemble afterwards. She still has to learn, it seems, to take responsibility for what she says and does. Finally, at a minimum, someone should explain to her the difference between an authoritarian state and a liberal democratic one, and the behaviour associated with each.

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