Peter O'Connor writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
Our country has settled comfortably into a state of wrongdoing as its national policy. We have been on this downhill slide since Independence, and are finally settling comfortably and unashamedly into this permanent condition. Outsiders may see us as a playground see-saw where the children rise and fall ineffectually without going anywhere–just rising and falling in the same spot.
Unfortunately we are not children at play. And indeed most of us are not involved in the game at all, other than voting every five years to put one or the other of our corrupt political parties on the rising arc of the see-saw. And the rising arc is the arc of corruption, which each side embraces and fans, while shouting curses and threats at those descending.
But we have long learned that the curses and threats are just to make the dumb herd of voters believe that those rising plan to pursue the sinking crowd for the wrongdoings the risers are identifying. But those sinking, whether they are red or yellow, all know that they need have no fear. Whatever wrong they did, however much they stole while in ascendancy will be allowed to fade away, and ill-gotten gains will be safe, somewhere in accounts overseas. From the voting machines scandal of the 1961 election, Tesoro oil company, the BWIA purchases, through all the oil-money waste and theft, government-to-government contracts, the wealthy fleeing to Panama and Costa Rica, our first oil boom left us bankrupt. No one was ever charged with any form of mis-rule, mismanagement or corruption. They still have their money and their positions.
It was not that the PNM, who ruled through all those years, was corrupt. If the PNM alone was corrupt, we would have charged them during the NAR years. We let them be, because we are all corrupt, and we all accept that. The NAR was not massively corrupt between 1986 and 1991, but that was largely because there was nothing left to steal. They did have to endure a bloody coup attempt, where Muslim insurgents stormed parliament, murdering one member among several other persons and holding parliament hostage for several days. The sitting prime minister was shot, but both opposition leaders left parliament early on that day. They stayed safely in their homes throughout the atrocities, and to this day neither has ever condemned the coup attempt. But the Muslimeen leader had often been entertained by these two in the years following.
By tacit agreement, neither the PNM nor the UNC would call for any type of investigation of the coup and the murders and arson which took place. All of the perpetrators were set free without charge. Who can doubt deep complicity by the PNM and Panday’s UNC in refusing to investigate the coup? The Kamla-led coalition government found it politically expedient in 2012 to investigate the coup attempt. But the final report on that has been—as is custom—ignored. The UNC government of 1995 built us a new airport. That was so riddled with corruption that two of the construction principals, both US citizens, were jailed in Florida. The TT principals have fortuitously avoided the US attempts to bring them to justice there. They continue to live among our wealthy and well connected here, being photographed in high-society settings.
The PNM returned to the high swing in 2002, at a time when oil prices were swinging upwards too. An investigation was called into the clear signs of corruption in contract awards and management. The report into those scandals has resided, for years now, with the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is still ‘studying it’. Our biggest insurance conglomerate faced collapse at this time. The owner was a financier of the UNC, and one of its senior executives was the treasurer of the PNM when the conglomerate faced bankruptcy. A major public inquiry was commissioned again. The report into that fiasco, for which nobody is facing even censure, is being held secret by the current PNM government. They will ‘study’ all of these reports while they now launch investigations into the tenure of the recently-deposed PP-UNC upswing. Indeed, there is much to be investigated there, as there is in all the previous turns on our see-saw. And we have not even mentioned our petroleum company—Petrotrin, here as yet. Both parties on the swing have bled this poor outfit dry, and the current “missing oil” theft will just pass into history along with all of our past and current scandals.
Always remember, that in the weeks leading up to any election, the party on the high end of the swing issues billions of dollars in contracts to “their people”: rental contracts, construction contracts, “study” contracts, all designed to ensure that the down swing is cushioned until they can rise again.