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Trini ethics now under close watch

Peter Wickham

Trini ethics now under close watch

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The Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration this week faced yet another test of its commitment to integrity. In politics, the sternest tests often come from incidents which force a leader to demonstrate their commitment by making decisions that could have adverse political implications and anyone familiar with the Warner/FIFA scenario would agree that this is one such test.  
Leaders across the region should therefore pay close attention, especially since Warner is no “garden variety” politician and his uniqueness will stretch the bounds of Persad-Bissessar’s commitment to transparency.
Some weeks ago, Persad-Bissessar was tested in a way that was not dissimilar and she passed with flying colours.
In seeking to compare the two incidents, it is important that distinguishing features be highlighted, lest readers believe I am naive enough to believe that the two are equivalent.
On the one hand, Mary King is a woman, while Warner is male and as much as we believe that there is gender equality in politics, there clearly is not.
King’s positive “political characteristics” however end with gender since she was brought forth from the minority partner in the People’s Partnership and was for several other reasons not a political heavyweight as she was not elected and is, of course, Anglo-Trinidadian.
It is fascinating that in Trinidad and Tobago today, an Anglo-Trinidadian woman serving in a predominantly Indo-Trinidadian administration is more expendable than an Afro-Trinidadian man. Naturally this would make Captain John Hawkins turn in his grave, but “it’s so it goes” today in Trinbago.
The complex way in which race impacts on politics there is such that Warner will continue to be virtually indispensable to the Persad-Bissessar administration until a more credible Afro-Trinidadian emerges who is as well entrenched politically and has similar economic clout.
In fairness to Warner, it has to be stated that King’s alleged sin took place in the course of her work as a minister of the state, while his was allegedly committed while he was on a “private frolic”.
One could therefore argue that it would be as unfair to make him accountable in Trinidad and Tobago as it would be to deem a minister who keeps a mistress unfit for that reason alone.
The FIFA issue is entirely its affair and one which will in due course be investigated and acted upon. This distinction is compelling but it attempts to treat ministerial service as though it were any other type of job.  
Our constitutions presume that service as a member of parliament or minister is the highest possible form of national service and for this one has to be a special type of person.
It is for this reason that no formal qualifications are required and voters are allowed to come to their own conclusions on a candidate’s suitability.
Once selected to lead a ministry, a minister will be responsible for raising and spending the state’s resources and one would therefore assume that the average Trinbagonian would be justifiably concerned if one of their ministers were accused of breaching the rules of financial propriety with another agency.
We justifiably assume that a person who is cavalier with the rules of one organization has an above average chance of being cavalier with the rules of another and therefore might not be the type of person to be responsible for managing the award of large government contracts.
The assumption that Trinbagonians might have some difficulties if he is found guilty raises the question of the prudence of acting against Warner before the verdict is handed down by FIFA.
In the King scenario, I argued that the apparently hasty action of Persad-Bissessar was justified since she carried out her own investigation and the attorney general came to the conclusion that there was sufficient merit in the claims to warrant dismissal regardless of the Integrity Commission’s final verdict.
On that occasion, I argued that a prime minister has the right to come to her own conclusions and to set a standard for her ministers which can be more stringent than that of the integrity commission’s or FIFA’s.  
In this instance, she appears to have deviated somewhat since there is no indication that the attorney general carried out any investigations into this matter that clearly speaks to Warner’s character.
As much as we try to distinguish the two cases, this appears to be the classic scenario where there is one set of laws for the Medes and another for the Persians.
If nothing else, this issue highlights for us across the region the potential problems that a prime minister can court when a person is allowed to sit in the Cabinet while that person has allegiance elsewhere.
There is legal certainty that Warner can sit in the Cabinet; however this incident highlights the extent to which it is unwise politically since he will clearly be distracted from his ministerial duties even if he is eventually cleared.  
Warner’s peculiar status is becoming familiar across this region where there is at least one other minister who is paid a salary of $1 for his ministerial work. There is also the case of Bermuda where one can become a “part-time” minister and while I acknowledge the popularity of these arrangements, I question the prudence.