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Friday 15 November 2019
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Commentary

Unethical politics

The recent making public of Dr Rowley’s mobile telephone number by Devant Maharaj, a member of the main Opposition party, was an unethical act. It may or may not have been illegal, or even seditious, but it was mean and intended to harass this country’s Prime Minister. Regardless of one’s political loyalties, the electorate can only deem such behaviour as improper.

It would seem that the former minister of government, with a history of using the courts to access public information, was more interested in drawing attention to himself and his party than to the outcome he pretends to have been seeking. From what I read, I understand that Mr Maharaj has a long history of activism with regard to greater openness on the part of government, and one can sympathise with the desire to make the voting public adjust its understanding of what it should want to know and has a right to know. However, that is not equal to personalising the issue and disregarding the right to privacy of any public officer, including the holder of the office of the PM, even if their phones are paid for by the TT taxpayer. It is a form of dirty politics that has backfired, and no amount of making light of it by active senior politicians, who should know better, detracts from that fact. Expanding the disclosure of other individual cabinet ministers’ telephone numbers as a form of distraction does not help either.

It is worth asking that old question about whether the means are ever justified. I would say that sometimes the means are justified, but not in this case, especially since the end was not an acceptable or justifiable one. However, the accidental outcome, which we should consider, is why does it take a childish and irresponsible act to trigger a new national discussion on privacy and the right to public information? It also begs the question, whatever happened to the notion of local government and the duty that serving MPs have to their constituents?

Encouraging citizens, especially the disaffected, to persecute the PM on matters of individual concern is to thwart, even further, the workings of our democracy and does nobody any favours. The action sets up the false premise that government ministers are not accessible, which is untrue. All MPs’ constituency offices are open to the public and the managers have contact information for the respective MPs who may also be cabinet minsters. Journalists and media organisations always have contact information for the PM, MPs and senior public officers and they use that information respectfully and judiciously. Just handing out those contacts to the general public is a disservice to everyone, it exacerbates the cult of the maximum leader and the great tendency we have to believe that power only resides at the top. It would be more useful to instruct the public in how to understand power, know where it lies, who really wields it, how to realistically access it and how to work to change the ailing structures, so that something useful and tangible is achieved instead of unleashing threats of violence and other abuse upon public servants.

There is too much secrecy in this country, which reveals a lack of confidence and also cloaks the misuse of power. For that reason the persistence of certain individuals who pursue matters of public disclosure through the courts is laudable. How is the public supposed to deal with the endless allegations of corruption, financial and other, that arise daily in Parliament, the judiciary and public utility companies? We feel a hopeless realisation that public service is a means to an end. And we discount any wantonly self-promoting individual who dubs our wise President a liar for naming this corruption and voicing what we all know to be eating away at the fibre of our society and democracy.

The scales have dropped from our eyes and we no longer question whether dishonesty exists or not, but rather the extent of it. It goes a long way to disempowering us. It is not a problem we alone face. Next door in meltdown Venezuela, where the government retains control of political resources, we can only wonder if the president has completely taken leave of his senses. The British people have to contend with the current parliamentary fiasco in which opportunists, prepared to put personal ambition before country and party, lined up to unseat the PM whilst she’s in the midst of difficult Brexit negotiations. In Washington, the deepening tales of seedy corruption on the part of the disruptive, incumbent president denigrates the powerful office. It all speaks of the degeneration of politics and need for a reformation. As circumstances change so must our thinking and actions.

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