PM must always be consistent
By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, September 2 2012
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Former Minister in the Ministry of National Security Collin Partap and Minister of National Security Jack Warner after a meeting of the Heads of Divis...
Twenty-eight months into its five-year tenure, the People’s Partnership (PP) Government last week suffered yet another casualty with the sudden firing of Minister in the Ministry of National Security Collin Partap.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, perhaps acting on the advice of National Security Minister Jack Warner, advised President George Maxwell Richards to revoke Partap’s appointment as a minister after an incident outside of the newly re-opened Zen night club in Port-of-Spain, last Sunday morning, in which the Cumuto/Manzanilla MP was reportedly asked by police officers to submit to a breathalyser test.
Partap, who allegedly resisted the officers’ request at first, subsequently telephoned acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams, asking him to intervene in the matter. Partap later took the test at the Belmont Police Station.
However, Partap, who has retained his status as an MP in the House of Representatives, could still face charges arising from his failure to comply with the officers’ initial request for a breathalyser test. Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams told a news conference on Wednesday that the police was seeking legal advice on the matter.
“Complete investigations will be conducted in relation to that matter and the advice of the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) will be sought in order to determine whether to prosecute the ex-minister for his refusal in the first instant to submit to a breath test,” he told reporters.
Partap, who replaced his father, Harry Partap (now ambassador to South Africa), as the representative for the Cumuto/Manzanilla area, has remained mum and kept a low profile since his dismissal. (See page 3B)
In losing his new portfolio — which he acquired in June during the last Cabinet realignment exercise, after having previously served as Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister — Partap joined former Minister of Planning, Social Restructuring and Gender Affairs, Mary King, whom Persad-Bissessar also fired for an alleged corrupt act involving King’s family business.
As Minister of Planning, Social Restructuring and Gender Affairs (which has now been dissected) at the time the PP assumed office in May 2010, King, a former independent senator and economist of international repute, was fired one year after being appointed for her questionable role in the award of a contract for the development of a website at the ministry to Ixanos Ltd, a family business which she jointly owns with her husband, Prof St Clair King.
The former minister is alleged to have failed to disclose interest in the company during the selection process and also placed her secretary on the evaluation committee which recommended the award to Ixanos Ltd.
After meeting with President Richards to revoke King’s appointment in May 2011, Persad- Bissessar had told reporters, “This will serve as a warning, a wake-up call to every member of the Cabinet who is interested in serving the people and doing so with transparency and accountability. It will be a lesson for all of us.”
The Prime Minister has subsequently maintained that no one, including those in high office, is above the law.
Is Persad-Bissessar holding true to this mantra in her decision to fire Partap, or any other minister for that matter, who is perceived to have run afoul of the law and the dictates of the Partnership?
Commenting briefly on the PM’s action last week, respected Senior Counsel Kenneth Lalla observed that Persad-Bissessar appeared to be upholding the rule of law.
“I totally agree with her because no one is above the law regardless of whether you are a member of Cabinet or whether you are a minister,” he told Sunday Newsday.
However, he said there should be “consistency in pursuing that particular course.”
“That is necessary and should be applied in all cases and there should be no favouritism or discrimination in applying that principle of law,” Lalla said.
Lalla, a former chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), said it was the prerogative of the Prime Minister to determine whether a minister’s action merits such a course of action.
“The position of prime minister is such that he or she must determine the suitability of ministers and whether they are competent or not. It is expected that the Prime Minister will take all the necessary action to ensure that the integrity of her Cabinet is maintained,” he added.
Indeed, Persad-Bissessar has adopted what some may consider to be a hardline approach in reprimanding her ministers.
Since becoming Prime Minister following the May 24, 2010 general election, Persad-Bissessar has sought to streamline the workings of her Government in keeping with its tenets.
As such, several ministers have been fired from the Cabinet, but they were subsequently offered ambassadorial duties abroad — evidence, some argue, that she may have buckled under the weight of widespread dissatisfaction over their respective performances in office.
Those who have felt the weight of such action include former ministers Therese Baptiste-Cornelis (Health), retired Brigadier John Sandy (National Security), Rudrawatee Ramgoolam (Public Administration) and Verna St Rose-Greaves (Gender, Youth and Child Development).
Baptiste-Cornelis, who was sent to Geneva, Switzerland, after a brief but turbulent stint as health minister, is expected to return to Trinidad and Tobago on September 17. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recalled Baptiste-Cornelis, who reportedly had a confrontational leadership style as a minister, after she delivered a highly-controversial lecture in Geneva in June on the topic of cultural diversity. During the lecture, which went viral, Baptiste-Cornelis spoke candidly about her job as a minister and why she felt she was fired. The former minister, who was appointed as ambassador in August 2011, also spoke in detail about aspects of her private life. The lecture had attracted a wave of criticism on social networking sites as well as from the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM). Sources have hinted that Sandy, who was also severely criticised for his handling of the crime situation, is likely to take up Baptiste-Cornelis’ post.
Ramgoolam was posted to New York, United States, but details of why she was removed from office have not been forthcoming.
The outspoken and intuitive St Rose-Greaves appeared to be a popular choice when she was appointed to the Cabinet on June 27, 2011. But the career social worker, was fired from the Government in the PM’s June 23, 2012 reshuffle and later declined to take up Persad-Bissessar’s offer of an ambassadorship to Costa Rica.
It was widely believed that St Rose-Greaves, who had presided over a package of landmark children’s legislation, was sacked because of her unwillingness to support the reintroduction of the death penalty, her firm stance on the gender policy and the controversy that surrounded the removal of Gender Affairs Ministry employee Cheryl Miller from her workplace by mental health workers some months ago. Miller has since emerged victorious in the courts.
St Rose-Greaves has been replaced by former San Fernando Mayor Marlene Coudray.
In June 2011, Partap’s predecessor in the Ministry of National Security, Subhas Panday, brother of UNC founder and former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, was also fired in what many believed was an attempt by the PM to sever links to the Panday political dynasty.
Panday, who had served as Leader of Government Business in the Senate, was also offered a diplomatic posting in Canada, but turned it down to focus on his law practice.
While the details of Partap’s dismissal are still being ventilated, observers are still questioning the PM’s decision, particularly in light of her somewhat softened approach in treating with allegations of wrongdoing involving other ministers, most notably former FIFA vice-president and National Security Minister Jack Warner.
Retired head of the public service, Reginald Dumas, said last week that there was a prevailing view that Persad-Bissessar has been unfair in her treatment of certain ministers.
“There is a widespread view that the treatment of a number of ministers (with respect to firing or re-alignment) have been inconsistently applied — Mary King, Nan Ramgoolam and Jack Warner,” he told Sunday Newsday.
Alluding specifically to the apparent preferential treatment that is being given to Warner, Dumas asked, “What is it that constitutes Mr Warner’s power — powers that the others don’t appear to have? That is not a question that I can answer.
“I think that the Prime Minister has to be very careful because a lot of people — and this is not a question of political partisanship now — are wondering what is the precise nature of the power that Mr Warner exercises within the Government, within the UNC, because of this inconsistency.”
Since becoming a minister in 2010,Warner has been accused of corruption in several scandals involving FIFA. In one matter, Warner and then fellow FIFA member Mohammed bin Hammam were among four persons suspended in May 2011 after they were accused of giving or offering bribes of TT$252,000 (US$40,000) to the 25 members of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) at a meeting at the Hyatt Hotel, Port-of-Spain. The total sum involved was $6.3 million (£1 million) according to a report to the FIFA ethics committee. In the face of the damning allegations, Warner subsequently quit his high-profile position in FIFA. One month later, on June 20, 2011, Warner told reporters he was never forced to resign from FIFA.
“This decision is by my own volition and self-determination; albeit it comes during the sequel to the contentious Mohammed bin Hammam meeting in Port-of-Spain in May with CFU delegates,” Warner had said. “I am convinced and I am advised by counsel, that since my actions did not extend beyond facilitating the meeting that gave Mr bin Hammam an opportunity to pursue his aborted bid for the FIFA presidency, I would be fully exonerated by any objective arbiter. “I have, nonetheless, arrived at the decision to withdraw from FIFA affairs in order to spare FIFA, CONCACAF and in particular CFU and its membership, from further acrimony and divisiveness arising from this and related issues,” he added.
On Friday, Dumas argued that while Warner has not been charged with anything “he is seen, as in the case of Partap, to have broken the law.”
He said, “Partap is perceived to have broken the law and the police is now looking to see if a charge can be made against him. Warner is not in that situation. There have been allegations made internationally about Warner with particular reference to his previous connection with FIFA.”
However, Dumas said the matter boils down to one of law versus ethics.
“But this is something we have not been concentrating on,” he said.
“We are saying that someone had done the wrong thing or appears to have done the wrong thing and, therefore, I have dealt with that person. But we have been shutting aside the issue of ethics and the issue that arises in my mind and in the eyes of a lot of people that I know is, ‘Has Mr Warner’s behaviour been ethical over time?’”
The same principle can be applied to reports of a bid by Warner to buy the TT Mirror newspaper, Dumas contended.
“Is it ethical, as distinct from illegal, for a sitting Cabinet minister to wish to purchase a newspaper which has been critical of the Government to which he belongs, which, therefore gives the impression that he wishes to control that newspaper and either run it out of business altogether, or get it firmly under his thumb so that it only gives favourable Government views?” he asked.
“The question arises, therefore, why would he want to purchase the Mirror? If it is for that purpose, then the issue of ethics arises again, especially in a democratic society that has the proper respect for the norms and the values of democracy. So it boils down in my view to an issue of law versus ethics and the population will have to decide which is more important or whether ethics is important at all.”
Dumas said the Government needed to look at the “ethical dimension” of its practices as well as the messages which were being sent to the population.
“If the people at the top send the message to the population, that it is only the law that counts and ethics and values do not count, then they should not be surprised if people below the Government level react accordingly. The matter goes beyond Jack Warner into the broader principles of ethics and values on the one hand versus law on the other,” he said.
Recalling the controversy that surrounded whether Warner should have retained his position as FIFA vice-president after he became a Cabinet minister in the first instance, Dumas said, “The question was whether it was illegal and there was nothing in the law to show it was illegal. The question of whether it was unethical was not asked.”
Dumas said, however, that the onus was on citizens to hold members of the Government and officials on State boards to account on issues relating to ethics and values.
“But if you leave it to the Government probably nothing will happen,” he joked.
“It is up to those people to get up and speak and say ‘No, we want such and such to happen.’ But if you leave it to the people in power we will wait forever.”
In the absence of the “comprehensive” facts relating to the Partap incident, political commentator Dr Winford James said one can still argue that the controversies surrounding Warner could have also led to an outright dismissal. He told Sunday Newsday, “Mr Partap’s incident pales very much in significance to the allegations that have been raised against Warner.
“How can you fire a man because he refused to take a breathalyser test but you keep a man who had to resign from FIFA under very dark clouds?”
James, a senior lecturer in the Department of Education at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, argued that even though Warner was never found guilty “people have found his word not to be trusted.”
James, too, agreed that a large part of the issues involving alleged wrongdoing by ministers had to do with standards. Referring to the concerns about whether Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan should have relinquished his private practice while in Government, James said, “We always have to measure what our responses will be in a context where we are defending standards ourselves. In some countries, those things are developed already so they know how to react.
“We are now building our own standards and if you ask me to react to Jack’s conduct and Collin’s (Partap’s) conduct so far as we know it, the behaviour I will come out against more severely is Jack’s.”
He added, “I would probably come out against both of them, but I don’t know whether they have code of conduct that speaks to something like that.”