YOU MAY recall telling a PNM group in late March 1995 that the service commission system was an imperialist creation which Britain had imposed on all its former colonies. It was, you added, “an arrangement that (had) outlived its usefulness.”
(A few days later) I wrote…that, at least where Trinidad and Tobago was concerned, your charge was “bereft of historical accuracy,” and I urged you not to “threaten to destroy institutions and try to sweep aside checks and balances simply because (you hadn’t) got (your) way.” (You had been having a little difficulty with the Police Service Commission over the late Jules Bernard, remember?)
In another article ten days later I quoted your then public administration minister, the late Gordon Draper, as speaking about a degree of fear and resistance among public servants. I expressed the hope that he would tell you that public assaults by you on the service commissions would “do nothing to cause that fear and resistance to abate.”
In the 13½ years since those articles, Prime Minister, I’ve often written about what I’ve increasingly regarded as your systematic sabotage of our institutions. By “institutions,” as I said in March this year, “I don’t mean only the formal structures, like the judiciary, Parliament and the service commissions. I mean also the standards of perception and conduct necessary for civilised societal living.
I mean too the cumulative effect on those standards of the messages sent to the population by government and quasi-government action, as well as the lessons drawn – and, I expect, intended to be drawn – from those messages.” In that connection, I deplored among other things the depiction – since abandoned, thankfully – of the balisier, your political party symbol, on the tails of our national airline planes.
You deny any attempt, or even thought, of sabotage, of course; I expect you to. But in the view of a growing number of the population, your denials are at sharp variance with a great deal of what you and your ministerial flock say and do. The list is long, and lengthening. Consider just these examples.
The establishment of the Police Management Authority, obviously designed to undercut the Police Service Commission which had caused you so much grief…Your promise – it sounded menacing – to make the presidency “more accountable” (to whom?). Your then attorney general’s description of the Elections and Boundaries Commission as “a department of government.” (En passant, your recent attorneys general have delivered themselves of some very strange concepts…The current one came up with a new, and novel, principle of natural justice, and was, I understand, heard to say on the radio that the Constitution prescribes that the AG must be an attorney-at-law. For his part, her immediate predecessor in office bewilderingly deemed the Commission called Integrity to be “a superior court of record.”)
There is more, Prime Minister. The part you played in the Coudray affair. Your pursuit of the former chief justice. Your triumphalist presentation of an “authorless” draft constitution which inter alia proposes to reduce the powers of the DPP…Your behaviour, and that of several of your ministers, in and towards Parliament these last several months. I could go on.
But now, in explanation of your unannounced (I assume it was unannounced) recent visit to a radio station, you are reported as saying you took the action because it was “a question of (the two radio hosts) being disrespectful to institutions and authority and pursuing a course of action that (could) cause the image of these institutions and individuals to be tarnished in the minds of those…whose interest they were set up to serve. And therefore they can become completely ineffective.”
Often, Prime Minister, it is necessary to challenge authority, but I won’t go into that now. What I will say is that, against the background of what I’ve seen as your unremitting siege of our institutions over the years, I was delighted to hear you express what sounded like a new-found appreciation of the viability and welfare of those institutions. I can only encourage you along that path, though I’m not holding my breath.
If I may use a cricket phrase, however, you have some work to do on your shot selection. By this I mean that a mere insistence on your rights as a citizen is not enough. We all have such rights, but we can’t always exercise them…We must be discriminating.
I’ve read the transcript of the remarks that so offended you, and quite frankly I don’t understand your reaction. What precisely upset you? To which institutions, to what authority, were the radio hosts being “disrespectful?” Yours? Surely after all the criticism heaped on you throughout the years you couldn’t be as thin-skinned as that?