Less than eight months after Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the People’s Partnership skilfully navigated the crest of a high wave in a sea of yellow and assumed governance of a nation, the name Reshmi Ramnarine entered the national vocabulary.
The PP government was elected on May 24, 2010. News of Ramnarine’s appointment as director of the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA) was published in January 2011.
Neither the head of the National Security Council nor the newly appointed boss of spies saw what was coming their way, which incidentally ought to have immediately disqualified both Persad-Bissessar and Ramnarine from their respective new jobs and from anything that involved intelligence-gathering and reading public perception.
In 2010, Ramnarine suffered the brunt of criticisms over her appointment. She had entered the security agency as a junior technician earning a monthly salary of $5,000.
There was general confusion about her academic qualifications; a CV submitted to media houses by Ramnarine in 2007 listed a computer course—Microsoft Certified Systems and Engineer—done at UWI between April 4, 2005 and May 12, 2006; a Facebook posting of her CV on January 21, 2011 showed technical qualifications in computing but no academic qualifications beyond two A-Levels, in which she achieved passes at the lowest permissible level.
Then National Security Minister John Sandy, in attempting to justify Ramnarine’s appointment, said in Parliament on January 21, that she was a “graduate of the University of the West Indies (UWI).”
Cabinet member Dr Suruj Rambachan elaborated that Ramnarine possessed a BSc in Information Technology and was at the time a second-year psychology student at UWI, St Augustine.
There was no doubt, however, that whatever academic qualifications Ramnarine possessed were less than suitable to qualify her even as a candidate for the post of director of the country’s premier intelligence-gathering agency.
Ramnarine was favoured to replace Nigel Clement who, SSA Deputy Director Julie Browne wrote, “was in possession of 5 0’ Levels with grades Bs and Cs. Moreover, the majority of his career was spent as an ordinary naval officer in the TTCG.”
In the logic of Browne’s recommendation of Ramnarine, one unqualified director deserved another.
The appointment of Ramnarine was the first major blunder by the PP government.
At the time, rather than offer an intelligent explanation to the public, government spokespeople engaged in deflection, silence and spin until Persad-Bissessar stepped in with large-and-in-charge arrogance. Having encouraged her security personnel to “open the bubble” to the media in her honeymoon days as prime minister, Persad-Bissessar decidedly contracted said bubble and posted heavy security on its circumference.
Emancipation Support Committee had invited the Prime Minister to the Hilton Hotel deliver the feature address at its launch of the international Year for People of African Descent. Sadly for the ESC, very little attention was paid to its launch because the event was overtaken by the gaggle of eager reporters waiting outside for the Prime Minister, all seeking explanations on behalf of the public.
That was the infamous moment that Persad-Bissessar must surely hope the population has forgotten. She refused explanation with the vexed and dismissive: “Let’s move f’ward.”
From then to now, Persad-Bissessar has spoken of the Ramnarine appointment as her deepest regret.
On her Leaders Exchange appearance on CNMG, she must have been happy that the Ramnarine name appeared in a poorly-phrased question by Derek Ramsamooj; even so, her demeanour betrayed her discomfort when the name was mentioned.
Now, four years and seven months since that original outrage, former right-hand man and current accused, Jack Warner, has proffered to the public an explanation for what really happened. And the explanation involves national politics, the politics of vengeance and sexual politics.
Warner claimed last week that Ramnarine and several others were rewarded with high profile positions paid for by the State because of romantic and sexual relationships with the Prime Minister.
Further, he alleges that the Prime Minister, the ultimate leader in the Westminster model, “preyed” on young women and there is a sworn affidavit saying so. The Prime Minister said she referred the matter to her lawyers.
Oddly, however, traditional media has, for the most part, steered clear of the revelation.
The Guardian published a story on its front page two Sundays ago but without much detail. The Express has avoided it completely. CNC3 carried the story only in relation to Ramnarine, studiously ignoring the others who, Warner alleges, secured leading public positions paid for by public money.
At the time of Warner’s revelations about Kristyan Gokool, the media was understandably uncertain about how to write these allegations located in the prime ministerial chambers. By now, one would have thought the media would be better able to locate public interest in revelations and allegations about private lives.
But it is not only uncertainty that is making the media uncomfortable with these stories. It is also that the media in January 2011 focused its pens on Ramnarine much more than Persad-Bissessar who, as head of the National Security Council, appointed Ramnarine as SIA director.
The proper person from whom to seek answers is the Prime Minister, the giver, more so than Ramnarine, the receiver.
With or without Mr Warner’s allegations, the public has a right to be told how that January 2011 decision was made and why.
Mr Warner’s explanations are to be placed on public record just like Persad-Bissessar’s. In the absence of “truth,” the public deserves to have all available information in their search for a convincing explanation for that first outrage.