Does diplomatic immunity apply here?

“…she blew the cover off our political pretensions, revealing us as a people represented by arbitrary, opportunistic power to which merit and standards are no particular concern.”

Trinidad Express columnist Sunity Maharaj, who can always be relied upon for sober, thought-provoking insights on social reordering in Trinidad and Tobago, was referencing a diplomatic misfit who had been posted to Geneva by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar after an abortive tenure as minister of health. Alas, the lady became an instant cause célèbre and a much viewed YouTube source of embarrassment for T & T nationals following a speech she delivered (“37 minutes of uninhibited rambling,” quipped Maharaj) in an international forum.

Curiously, Maharaj’s mention of merit and standards being of no concern applies seamlessly to a quite disturbing situation that has arisen at the Trinidad and Tobago Consulate in New York. No less an individual than the country’s ambassador to Washington, Neil Parsan, was quoted in a recent newspaper report as having described morale at the consulate as slipping into negative territory, following the abrupt firing of eight employees, several of them long-serving staffers with individual records of service going back as many as 20-plus years, and the imposition of arbitrary, regressive contract stipulations for employees who, for the time being, still have a job. At the apex of this sordid turn of events is the Consul General Rudrawatee Nan Ramgoolam who, like that ill-conceived Geneva deployment, was shipped off to the New York Consulate gig after likewise coming up short in a cabinet post.

Ever since, with the attainment of republican status, a Trinidad and Tobago Consulate was established in New York, the consul general’s post has always been occupied by a career diplomat. Politicizing of the position has been the handiwork, one presumes, of either Persad-Bissessar herself or the man to whom she gave the foreign affairs portfolio, Suruj Rambachan. Rambachan is well known to be an unadulterated, unapologetic racist. Whether he was doing his administration’s bidding or engaged in some free-form soloing, there probably was not much room for doubt in Rambachan’s intent, given the man’s pedigree, when he told the consulate staff in an early meeting with them, that the face of the consulate would have to change. In Consul General Ramgoolam, the foreign affairs minister evidently had a kindred spirit perfectly aligned with those new designs for the consulate operation.

In Trinidad, Reginald Dumas, former head of the public service, expressed misgivings when told of a written exam to which consulate staff members were subjected as part of the re-applying process to retain a place in the new order (as mandated by God-only-knows whom). Unquestionably well versed in these matters, Dumas was quizzical: who authorized such an exam, who set the exam, who marked the papers, how were the papers graded…? Added to which if, as is understood, the exam consisted primarily of questions about consulate functions and procedures, it does seem quite peculiar that members of the public seeking first-time employment at the consulate were given the very same test. All of which may have played into the nature of a report said to have been submitted by Ambassador Parsan about consulate goings-on, and which has now reportedly occasioned a halt to the consulate’s “restructuring” ambitions, pending cabinet review.

In the meantime, however, there’s the matter of a community of Trinidad and Tobago nationals still to be served by a consulate staff devastated by draconian measures the likes of which might elicit a scowl even from Wisconsin’s unabashedly anti-labor governor. No kidding! The employees dismissed in early July, in one instance after 23 years’ unbroken service, were simply told they hadn’t been successful in the exam and were being immediately terminated — with no separation package whatsoever. The employees who “passed” the exam would learn that this entitled them to “temporary” status on a six-month contract which could be terminated on one day’s notice, and which included absolutely no benefits (they previously worked under two-year contracts that included typical employee benefits). Added to which, at the end of the six-month “temporary” stint, they would be required to break service for a week and could then be offered another temporary gig for six months!

The circumstances here are so bizarre, one wonders whether we aren’t witnessing another instance — not uncommon in Persad-Bissessar’s administration — of process being paid scant courtesy, of governing authority being ascribed open-ended liberties it does not possess. The celebrated case of a junior officer, bogus credentials and all, being geared to become the country’s security chief remains perhaps atop the highlight reels of process discarded. Process hasn’t been a factor either in the case of the notorious Jack Warner, where malfeasance or the appearance of it hasn’t derailed his cabinet ranking, and with a law-unto-himself disposition still very much intact as he goes about state business.

The New York Consulate has now assumed the appearance of somebody’s fiefdom…or maybe someone’s immunity bunker. What has been meted out to those dedicated consulate employees is behavior that should repulse Trinidad and Tobago nationals across the board. The Rambo-esque posturing and practice, informed by darker impulses that bespoke a purge effort, or whatever has been undertaken, ought to be exposed for what it is and rejected out of hand.

Given the track record, though, one isn’t exactly buoyant over news of a cabinet-level investigation possibly righting this egregious wrong.