Saturday, June 29, 2013

Guest commentary: ALL FALL DOWN

Reproduced from NEWSDAY - Reflections by Suzanne Mills Friday, June 28 2013

President Carmona greets PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar
Whining ad nauseum about the plummeting standards in Trinidad and Tobago, we often look across the seas to Great Britain as the benchmark for conduct in public life, ignoring that Britain cannot set standards for us, that we must be a beacon for our own behaviour.

"Much ado about nothing" is the description used by the PNM to describe the furore over the secret meeting between their leader Dr Keith Rowley and the chairman of the Integrity Commission, Ken Gordon, in complete ignorance of the impropriety of that meeting and its consequences for the IC and for the society. No surprise there. 

Their leader regrets the meeting, not because it was entirely off the wall, hush-hush and cast a shadow over the IC, but because it "created an opportunity for persons to misrepresent it". Put another way, the PNM decides what is unethical and what is not. The improper conduct of the IC chairman is irrelevant to them for it suits their purpose.

Despite cogent arguments that demonstrate that the IC chairman's actions were tantamount to misconduct in public office, the PNM and its cohorts would have us believe that our disgust and mistrust are much ado about nothing when the raison d├ętre of the Integrity in Public Life Act is to preserve and promote the integrity of public officials and institutions. 

How can the IC meet its mandate with Ken Gordon at the helm? 

Mr Gordon's actions are not isolated from the email probe - his conversation with Dr Rowley was a step on the road to the disclosure of the email document in Parliament. We still do not know what was discussed at that meeting as there are no minutes of the conversation. We can speculate that Gordon gave Rowley assurances that pleased Rowley, which is why Rowley immediately announced that the IC could and should investigate the emails after the Prime Minister referred the matter to the police.

With the announcement of four new commissioners, the IC still cannot be viewed as an independent body not unless Ken Gordon is removed. So why hasn't the President taken action? Sufficient time has passed for President Anthony Carmona to dot the Is and cross the Ts. 

Now, it is clear that he does not intend to remove Gordon - it was clear from the PM's demeanour when she left his office last week. She looked defeated. After that meeting, Gordon must have realised then that he would not be fired which explains his confident statement the very next day.

Perhaps President Carmona is mindful of the ruling in the Nizam Mohammed case. But fear of being challenged should not prevent a president from being presidential, especially in a matter as worrisome as this is and given its implications for the future of the IC. 

Almost everyone agrees that Gordon's conduct was wrong. How many more have to express their disgust before President Carmona does what is expected of him? 

If because of that Nizam ruling the President is of the view that he has absolutely no power to act, what is the point of having a president? It appears that President Carmona prefers to have the IC decisions challenged rather than his. By leaving Gordon in his post, the message will be that Gordon can conduct himself as he pleases with impunity and undermine a body crucial to conduct in public life. In that case, all fall down.

The consensus among those who would have us believe that now we have the names of the four new commissioners we can have an independent, functioning and credible IC under Gordon and that the Commission can now move to investigate the email allegations is disingenuous. 

All its decisions can be legally challenged and once again we have an IC that operates under a dark cloud because of a president's lack of gumption. We might as well abolish the IC.

At his inauguration the new President declared, "Powers you think I do not have... I do. I may not have a magic wand, but the Office of the Presidency is not impotent. Section 81 of the Constitution mandates the Prime Minister to keep the President fully informed of the general conduct of the Government and, at the President's request, to submit information with respect to any matter relating thereto".

When he made this comment I concluded he was taking a potshot at the PM and referring to the occasion when former President George Maxwell Richards had written to the Prime Minister asking for full disclosure of the events leading to the early proclamation of Section 34 and it was wrongly assumed that the PM had ignored Richards. 

In his inaugural speech, the President also promised to do his part to make TT a better society and encouraged citizens to demand standards of all those persons who command positions of influence in our society.

"Whatever their sphere of influence, it is the right and duty of our citizenry to demand that, as leaders, they are responsible and accountable in the exercise of their functions," he declared.

That was three months ago and he has wasted his first opportunity to demonstrate that he will live up to the expectations of his much acclaimed speech and that he will lead his citizens by example. 

Instead he wavers and he demonstrates that he has confidence in Gordon's leadership when possibly the majority of the citizenry has lost faith in Gordon. President Carmona is either unprepared or afraid to use his power to hire or fire, to demonstrate that he is accountable in the exercise of his functions.

In his speech, President Carmona also stated that he was humbled by the abundance of goodwill that he had received on his nomination; but he was ever mindful that goodwill can be nebulous and can dissipate if expectations are not realised or not realised expeditiously.

If he intends to leave Gordon in the post then the President will have let the country down and TT will continue to be a nation where standards are not upheld. 

With the exception of the PNM and its supporters, the nation is appalled about the improper, secret meeting that took place between Gordon and Rowley and the President cannot expect to retain the goodwill that he had received when his nomination was announced by failing to remove Mr Gordon.,179838.html

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai