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Trinidad & Tobago's ‘Pass-the-Buck’ Politics

Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago; Photo Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago; Photo Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, addressed the nation at 7:30 Monday night, three-and-a-half hours later than originally scheduled, to respond to the witness-tampering allegations surrounding Attorney General Anand Ramlogan. The PM also discussed the resulting police investigation into Ramlogan's alleged obstruction of justice, which David West, Director of the Police Complaints Authority, disclosed on January 29.

Netizens were already expressing their displeasure at the speech's hurriedly announced time change, but what Persad-Bissessar finally said provoked even more outrage. Yes, the attorney general, despite “vehemently deny[ing] the allegation”, tendered his resignation, but the PM added that Gary Griffith, the Minister of National Security who was allegedly involved in the fiasco (though he claims he was set up by the AG), also resigned. No sooner had the prime minister delivered her speech, than Griffith started calling in to various television stations to clarify his position: he did not resign; he was fired.

Many found astonishing the swiftness with which Persad-Bissessar moved on in her speech from the criminal investigation facing Ramlogan. She also questioned West's motives, calling for his resignation and saying he has a conflict of interest in this case. In her speech, the PM also managed somehow to blame Dr. Keith Rowley, the Leader of the Opposition, for aggravating the situation, pinning the whole debacle on his failure to communicate, while querying the timing of West's revelations:

What is also of equally grave concern to me, as it must be to the nation, is the compromised position of the Director of the PCA […] The question must arise as to why he did not make it known to me or to His Excellency President Anthony Carmona when the position of heading the PCA was offered to him in November. Further, why did he wait until now to make public this matter?

If the Opposition Leader also knew of the issue […] it would also have been obligatory upon him to have informed His Excellency. […]

Withholding such information has seriously compromised the appointment of the Director of the PCA. It is my view therefore, that the Director of the PCA should immediately resign and/or his appointment be revoked.

Social media immediately went ballistic. Facebook user Lara Quentrall-Thomas noted:

David West is a ‘victim’ in this case and should not be called on to resign as if he were the perpetrator. Appalling.

Rose-Marie Ingrid Lemessy-Forde agreed:

Why Kamla trying so hard to demonize David West??? Wants so hard to overshadow her own failed ministers.

Alyson Myers-Capstick, herself in the legal profession, thought the prime minister was deliberately shifting focus:

Less about David West and Keith Rowley and more about those two reprobates Anand and Gary. Stop trying to deflect the blame, your comments are not appropriate Madame Prime Minister.

Political blogger Rhoda Bharath said on her Facebook page:

Kamla take blame Rowley to new lengths tonight….something the PNM not even involved in…David West not even registered as a PNM member…and this is blamed on Rowley?
Keith force Anand to suborn West?
The fuck I really listen to tonight, boy?

Patricia Worrell added, tongue firmly in cheek:

A woman of principle!
The principle being: Whatever happen – is Rowley fault!

The prime minister went one step further than merely pointing fingers, saying:

I urge that an independent probe be conducted into these circumstances involving the Attorney General, the Minister of National Security, the head of the Police Complaints Authority and the Opposition Leader.

Bharath responded:

Kamla is so disgusting!
She is asking Carmona to revoke West's appointment.
Her whole speech is focused on West!
She mentioned The AG in one sentence…
She boof [Trinidadian term for reprimand] Griffith.
She boof West.
She Boof Rowley!
And aint mention && name once? […]

Wired 868, a website known for its slick political satire, summed up the whole situation in its usual cutting style, calling the press briefing “as bizarre as they come”. The post downplayed the PM's firing of the attorney general, noting that her admission that the whole affair might erode public faith in the AG's office would have been better received had it come three years ago at the time of the Section 34 controversy, a scandal known as “Emailgate” involving legislation that could have resulted in financiers of the prime minister's party escaping corruption and money laundering charges. Wired 868 wrote:

Oddly, Persad-Bissessar’s sharpest criticism was not for Ramlogan but for Griffith, Police Complaints Authority (PCA) director David West and Opposition Leader Keith Rowley instead.

Griffith was apparently supposed to tell the Prime Minister that Ramlogan allegedly asked West to withdraw a witness statement in a libel matter involving Rowley before West himself had officially reported the matter.

Whatever one might reasonably expect from Griffith, surely precognitive powers is not one of them.

Wired 868 writer “Mr. Live Wire” also took issue with the conflict-of-interest claims the prime minister leveled at West, saying, “That one needs careful examination”:

The AG allegedly offered him an inducement in exchange for the post of PCA director.

Now if West accepted the AG’s terms, he would obviously have been unfit for office. And, if he declined the terms and said nothing he would have concealed a crime and thereby been unfit for office.

But, according to Tanty Kams, if West declined the terms and reported the matter, he is still unfit for office for having reported a crime while working in a field that encourages people to do just that.

In some secret dungeon, Mr Live Wire is certain that Logic is being held captive and tortured nightly by this administration.

Many netizens thought it disingenuous of Persad-Bissessar to cite a conflict of interest in the first place, since she was one of the people named in Emailgate. Wired 868 also reminded readers of a few more instances in which the prime minister's behaviour flouted the very thing she was criticising:

Did Persad-Bissessar really accuse him of a conflict of interest for merely being a witness in someone else’s mess?

Is this the same Prime Minister who previously appointed Jack Warner as National Security Minister while he was under police investigation for possible money laundering due to his role in the Mohamed Bin Hammam scandal?

Or the Prime Minister who, at present, has Larry Howai as Finance Minister while he is implicated in alleged insider trading from his time at First Citizens?

Or the Prime Minister whose future Sport Minister Brent Sancho still has a legal matter pending against his ministry’s biggest sporting body, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA)?

The rest of Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar's speech was dedicated to fat-trimming. The Cabinet reshuffle, while expected, failed to instill much confidence in netizens. Many thought the mass revocation of political appointments played out like an episode of The Celebrity Apprentice, and of course, the videos and memes—often a good gauge for public sentiment—began to appear:
FIRED

MUPPETS

Carnival lovers poked fun at the firings by posting a meme of soca star Machel Montano, referring to his 2014 musical hit “Ministry of Road”:
machel

Some observers, however, see the recurring Cabinet reshuffles as a sign of instability. Rhoda Bharath posted no less than 26 names of ministers who have been relieved of their posts during this government's tenure.

The meme below, which uses an image of the Speaker of the House, Wade Mark, refers to another recent controversy involving the speaker's decision to assign strictures to the debate of a no-confidence motion against Minister of Finance Larry Howai. The speaker erroneously advised that he was made aware, by the High Court no less, of a pending judicial matter between Howai and Jack Warner, the minister of parliament who brought the no-confidence motion against him. In fact, Howai was the one who brought the lawsuit to Mark's attention, resulting in the widespread perception that the speaker was partial in his ruling. There have been calls for Mark's resignation in the wake of the controversy, but he was spared the prime minister's axe:
wade mark CROP

Warner, himself no stranger to controversy on the world stage, has since referred to the prime minister's new Cabinet as “a glorified roti shop”. The public perception that the Persad-Bissessar Administration is not conducting sufficient due diligence before awarding ministerial portfolios gave rise to this meme:
laptop

After the speech, the blowback online was overwhelming against the prime minister and her People's Partnership. Wired 868 thought it was “musical chairs on the Titanic”; some social media users were tired of the constant political missteps, while others interpreted all the backbiting as the end of the coalition government.

end is near

The fact that the dismissed Minister of National Security's wife is the Chairperson of the Congress of the People (COP), one of the main parties in the governing partnership, does not auger well for longevity. Mrs. Griffith has stated that the COP's continued support of the current administration is untenable. This is in direct contrast to the position of COP leader Prakash Ramadhar, making the situation even murkier:

Some observers are even suggesting that a new political order may emerge out of the dismissals:

As things continue to play out, netizens are becoming more convinced that decisions are being made, contrary to the prime minister's claims, for political expediency rather than the public interest. Many want an election date to be announced now; Facebook user Dion Boucaud explained it this way:

Now it all comes down to this …. people laughing when tears are required, our country is in crisis. This Government has lost the confidence of all right thinking people […] As we race onwards to silly season one can only wonder what else will find the light. We are far more polarized as a society now than ever before. We just can't take anymore. Take one for the country. Call elections now.

Alyson Myers-Capstick added:

The Opposition needs to immediately insist on a vote of no confidence. Elections must be called as soon as possible, this government has collapsed.

Other Facebook users saw no merit in any of the country's current political choices, underlining the fact that the electorate must be its own gatekeeper. Rose-Marie Ingrid Lemessy-Forde claims not to be fooled by the smoke and mirrors of the PM's speech; she whittled the whole affair down to the issue of integrity in public office:

Well if we can get past the new appointments made by the Prime Minister so we can get distracted by all the name dropping…let's not forget that the AG and others in the cabinet should be facing jail time for witness tampering and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

This Twitter user was of like mind:

The government, meanwhile, has been trying to stem the tide of any political fallout through a public relations campaign:

Netizens, however, appeared to see right through the strategy:

In the end, the onus will be on the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago to defend their democracy and prove this Facebook status update untrue:

Politics in Trinbago—where things keep happening at warp speed while the country remains in stasis.

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