WHAT'S the fate of a society whose leadership becomes untouchable?
In an attempt to answer that, I'm going to tell you a tale of two cities – London and Port of Spain.
British PM Boris Johnson faces his most serious challenge to date. His stiff cocktail of political perils stems in part, from a mixer at 10 Downing Street in 2020. The BYOB (bring your own bacchanal) happened at a time when covid rules and lockdown were in full effect.
Sporadic revelations about the drink-up from whistleblowers graduated to a full-on trumpet section. A trickle of grainy pictures became a torrent of videos supplied through leakages that would make WASA envious. As a result, people from all walks of life and political camps are calling for Johnson's removal.
Even if Johnson survives calls for his famously tousled head, several of his administration have already been removed from office for thumbing their noses at pandemic regulations and the public. The British PM and company don't have the cosy refuge of a population chanting, "But de people in Labour wuss dan de guvament!"
In the UK, folks in public life are sent packing if found to have violated their oaths of office. Moreover, no law needs to be broken. The spirit of the law or largely unenforceable rules, once flouted, is enough to trigger sanctions. Unflinching integrity in politicians (or anyone for that matter) is not an unreasonable ask.
As a result, a robust culture of accountability chastens venal politicians.
There are enough citizens in the UK, regardless of background or political leaning, who are happy to call a spade a spade and dig any offending politician's grave with it. Additionally, once the British media get a story in their maw they don't let go until someone is made to answer for proven transgressions.
Now, let's look at the situation in TT.
Here, the public has zero expectation of probity in public office and journalists do not hold politicians' feet to the fire. What's worse is a selective apathy among some citizens that makes it easier for a government to hide behind their political omerta.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, a magnet for controversy, found himself ensnared in yet another mess. At the heart of the scandal was the inference that the AG allegedly gave legal advice to businessman Adrian Scoon, an assertion Al-Rawi vigorously denies. The matter stemmed from a party-boat event supposedly flouting public health regulations.
To be fair, the story isn't above suspicion because anyone seeking "legal advice" from Al-Rawi doesn't have the best judgement to begin with. Still, in the MV Ocean Pelican affair, there's compelling, sufficiently troubling evidence of a connection between the AG and Scoon, the son of a government minister. In newspaper reporting, the contents of a police station diary seem to record this connection.
How could the chief legal adviser to the government find himself embroiled in such a contentious matter?
When questioned about the issue, the PM waved off the concern by way of an indecipherable diatribe with the folksy postscript, "...if there are persons who have gotten themselves in trouble with the law, they blow their nose where they catch their cold."
Was that a news conference or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
"Is that your final answer?"
"That's my final answer."
It's not the first time the PM has been allowed to skirt controversies stirred by his AG. Al-Rawi appeared in a video, maskless, arm-wrestling and goofing around with others in a game show while the government was trying to encourage physical distancing and responsible behaviour.
In response, Rowley said no member of his government was getting a free pass. Yet nothing was done in the wake of the AG's injudicious antics.
AlRawi has displayed a pattern of questionable behaviour in office from the onset of his tenure.
It would be a mistake to pin it all on the AG, as his survival depends on a culture of extreme contempt for accountability and a double standard that rewards the politically connected.
In the UK, politicians wield tremendous power and influence. That power is held in check by the media and citizens who take their role in good governance seriously.
By stark contrast, certain politicians in TT get away with murder because of largely timid media houses and citizens whose outrage waxes and wanes depending on who is accused of offence.
This administration has reinterpreted the term "beyond reproach" to mean "beyond your reach." A sufficiently accepting public reinforces this cult of untouchability.