This glass-house dweller dispenses with caution

In Trinidad and Tobago, where folks have by now gotten used to eruptions on the political front occurring with dizzying speed, the latest attention-grabber for politicians, plebes and all others was what the local scribes dubbed Emailgate. Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley disclosed in Parliament a bunch of emails, very incriminating of the government, that were purportedly exchanged among members of the administration of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, including the lady herself. Rowley, we learned, came into possession of the allegedly “hot” material months ago and handed copies of them over to then President Maxwell Richards, who in turn passed them on to the Integrity Commission. Seeing nothing come of all this as time went by, Rowley apparently decided that making the existence of the alleged emails public and making this the basis of a no-confidence motion against the government, was the way to go.

The emails generally concerned the infamous Section 34 scandal, in which the government had surreptitiously pulled out and presented for proclamation by the president one highly controversial section of a piece of legislation, the president dumbfoundingly obliging. Speculation naturally centered on whether the emails were authentic. And media commentators’ (that’s media, not “media”) takes on the issue made for an eclectic mix. As for example in the country’s largest-circulation daily, the Express, where Raffique Shah concluded the emails had to be bogus, reasoning that the recklessness of communicating about the documents’ explosive content via email was a stretch he couldn’t bring himself to think the government players capable of…albeit that recklessness and the government, Shah must know, have been shown to be committed bedfellows. Fellow columnist Michael Harris was all over Rowley, whether the emails prove valid or otherwise, for his move in going public with the stuff without first getting professional verification of its authenticity.

But it was the perspective of Sunity Maharaj, whose fix on social dynamics in her midst seems always super-sharp, that most insightfully took Emailgate’s measure. “The corruption is now so comprehensive,” Maharaj said, “from top to bottom, that we’re likely to find no institution…no one that will lead us to the truth about Emailgate.” Which served as preamble to: “The frightening thing…is not whether the conversations actually happened – that we might never know – but that in this country it could very well have happened.” Maharaj detailed matters allegedly discussed in Rowley’s bundle and showed where, in each instance, no great leap was required to dial up the reality version. Regarding the involvement of Bissessar herself, Maharaj said: “Given the prime minister’s handling of the Section 34 imbroglio, acting as judge and jury in a matter in which she should have been the key person investigated, how hard is it to imagine her as part of a cover-up?”

Indeed Bissessar, along the way of her now three-year-old administration, has resorted to an above-the-fray buffer against implication that has oftentimes been much open to question. In the appalling abuse of power that was Section 34, she was playing that card again, the script including the justice minister walking the plank in a Bissessar charade that couldn’t possibly have conned too many. Early on she claimed, not very plausibly, unawareness of the goings-on surrounding what came to notoriety as the Reshmi affair, in which an unqualified young woman was being made head of one of the main security agencies.

There have been times, though, when “I didn’t know” wasn’t an option. Bissessar certainly knew that even if not spelled out in law, there was something fundamentally wrong in principle in making Jack Warner a member of her cabinet while he remained a vice president of FIFA. She certainly knew, subsequently, that there was too much of a dirty-dealing cloud over Warner for his assuming the national security portfolio not to have hiccups. She certainly knew that even if, again, not forbidden by law, nominating herself and her attorney general for senior counsel status (the vaunted “silk”) wasn’t a cool thing to do. And she certainly knows that her government has engaged in a rampant nepotism in hiring and contracting that has become downright ugly. Express columnist Keith Subero recently noted that, “every sector appears to have been vulgarized by the appointments of friends and family of the government.”

Bissessar vigorously pounded away at Rowley, as political combatants are wont to do, responding to what he laid in the Parliament. But in light of the brazenly corrupt trail her government has marched in its three years on the job, some of the characterizations and lines of attack the prime minister opted for mandate a double-take reaction, considering the source. No one who had been participant in, or subscriber to, or mastermind of Section 34 or Reshmi, or awarding silk to self or the whole sordid Jack Warner saga should tap into an attack line like: “O what a tangled web they weave when first they conspire to deceive.” A line like, “This is what I see as a conspiracy of deception” should be off-limits to members of the Bissessar government. Ditto, “It is impossible to defend the indefensible.” Ditto, “What goes around comes around.” Ditto, anyone else’s credibility being “totally shot and gone.” The nerve!

If she’s the legal eagle she claims to be, the prime minister surely can avail herself of other slings and arrows that won’t call attention to her own glass-house dwelling.