N Touch
Wednesday 16 January 2019
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Petty politics

THE RELEASE, by UNC activist and former government minister Devant Maharaj, of personal contact information linked to the Prime Minister has triggered condemnation from government officials and also debate over the appropriate bounds of political practice.

Maharaj has defended his action by implying the nature of Rowley’s post justified the disclosure.

“As a representative of the people, the people can’t only operate when it’s convenient to the Prime Minister,” said Maharaj. Yet, it is because the Prime Minister serves the people that his personal contact information should not be openly distributed.

In a country of 1.3 million people – and with thousands more from the TT diaspora living abroad – the sheer volume of communications would be enough to cripple any phone line, forcing the holder to change numbers. Which is precisely what has happened in this case.

Yes, there is a very real question of how accessible our government officials – from all sides – are. However, there are clear methods through which citizens can access their representatives. For example, the State spends millions to maintain a network of constituency offices.

To say people should call the Prime Minister to complain about problems with the fast ferry is not to advocate for greater accessibility, but rather to be facetious. The release of the number, followed by the continued release of the changeable numbers of Cabinet members, is more of a nuisance than anything else.

At the same time, the response to Maharaj’s actions should similarly be guided by the standards we expect of public officers. Dr Rowley’s use of the term “lowlife” to describe Maharaj was unfortunate. Prime ministerial language is expected of a prime minister at all times.

This matter presents an opportunity for Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, herself a former prime minister, to distance herself from the brand of petty politics which too often reigns supreme. As UNC political leader she has a particular responsibility here.

Meanwhile, it should be noted that unlike other countries, TT does not appear to have a legally-enforceable regime of rules governing the way government workers communicate. While state officials are given laptops, e-mail addresses, and phones, arrangements surrounding such facilities, including measures to ensure they are archived and not compromised are not well-known.

Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith has said there is no police probe into Maharaj for the distribution of the number. However, there are long-term issues that should be considered by the Parliament’s committees on public administration and national security in relation to government phone use.

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