The following response to a Trinidad Guardian editorial on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s public statement on unpaid salaries during his suspension from Parliament was submitted to Letter to the Editor by David Pierre:
Reference is made to an editorial titled ‘Dr Rowley’s missing pay cheque’ which appeared in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper on 18 June 2016. I am appalled by the general contents of the editorial as, once again in this country, we seek to blame the victim.
The editorial deals with the announcement by Dr Rowley at a PNM political meeting on 14 June 2016 that he intends to pursue his claim for salary denied to him during the period of his suspension from Parliament.
The editorial suggests that Dr Rowley should leave the matter in the hands of his attorneys for private conversation between the attorneys and the Parliamentary authorities.
The editor asserts that the issue ought not to have been pursued on the political platform in the manner in which Dr Rowley did so [and] implied that Dr Rowley’s behaviour was: “wajank” – crude and boisterous.
The editorial also suggested that his language was ‘…inflammatory, threatening the stability of the state… casually promoting constitutional confusion’ and he was ‘… using his position as head of government to force the Parliament, the Speaker—who he placed before the Parliament for election—to pay him what he believes is his due’.
The editor suggested that the charge could be made that the Prime Minister was setting a bad example for ‘ordinary villages’ and ‘labour leaders’ who may adopt similar behaviour to get their just due.
The editor seems to have forgotten that this fiasco did not originate with Dr Rowley, but was perpetrated on the State and Dr Rowley by the PP (UNC) Administration. That Administration obviously did not give serious consideration/was reckless to the likely constitutional and other implications of their unprecedented actions which a proper study of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conventions would have clarified.
The Government, by definition, has no confidence in the Opposition. However, the editor could find no space in his editorial to admonish such actions. Dr Rowley is simply seeking to enforce his rights and he is entitled to do so as a citizen of this country.
He was simply pointing to the possible consequences of a failure to grant him what he regards as his just due, including a possible declaration by the courts that all document signed by him as Leader of the Opposition during that period were null and void and of no effect. This cannot be regarded as promoting constitutional confusion.
Moreover, the suggestion that Dr Rowley can intimidate the Speaker is very insulting to the Speaker. In effect the editor is suggesting that the Speaker is incompetent, weak and biased in favour of the PNM.
I do not agree, given the negative connotation attributed to such words, that the Prime Minister’s language was inflammatory/ boisterous/crude/ haranguing. He was, however, very forthright and passionate on the matter.
I expected no less from someone in a leadership position. Indeed, he has an obligation to speak out. If Dr Rowley cannot stand up and be counted when an injustice is committed against him, who will have any confidence in his ability to stand up when the rights of other citizens are violated?
The inference can be drawn from the editorial that the matter is purely legal and has no place on a political platform. I should remind the editor that the legal system is slow and cumbersome and such matters take years to be concluded, by which time the population may have forgotten about the issue.
Moreover, in the event that Dr Rowley is successful, the State (taxpayers) will pay (not PP/UNC). In this context, the occasional reference to this matter on the political platform ensures that the political consequences of similar actions in the future will be ever present in the minds of errant politicians and serve as a deterrent. It is a guard against history repeating itself.
Dr Rowley is the aggrieved party and he has every right to speak on the matter and to not just leave it up to his attorneys. The victims of injustice must not be asked to move on with their lives, remain silent about their situation and, by so doing, allow their perpetrators to repeat the offence and/or victimise others who may not be unaware of their reputation. Rape victims know what that means.
Some of the validating elites in this society are of the view that contributions to radio and television call-in programmes, letters to the editor, mediation and litigation are the only legitimate avenues to be undertaken in the pursuit of justice, notwithstanding protection in the law for actions such as marches and strikes.
The colonial establishment recognised that to protect itself from the overwhelming numbers of the masses, it had to ensure that it adopted a policy of divide and rule, and also impose severe restrictions on the right to strike and assemble, ostensibly for good public order.
Every opportunity was taken by some of the validating elites in colonial times, a practice which continues today, to widely disseminate the view and thereby ‘brainwash’ members of the working class that strikes and marches were under no circumstances sensible options, and were always destructive and counter-productive. Accordingly, those who pursue such actions were treasonous, unpatriotic thugs.
Nevertheless, peaceful, non-violent strikes and marches are legitimate forms of protest action in this and other democratic countries. Indeed, many of the political, social and economic advances made in this country were on the backs of such protest actions.
In this regard, nearly all editors have been on the wrong side of history.
Dr Rowley never advocated that ‘ordinary villages’ and ‘labour leaders’ break the law in pursuit of their rights. He never suggested that aggrieved persons block roads, burn tyres or destroy other people’s property, or do anything that was not in conformity with the law, in pursuance of their rights.
I, therefore, do not understand the reference to ‘ordinary villages’ and ‘labour leaders’ (i.e. the reference to the need to move the country forward and establish quality standards of good governance) if their actions are in conformity with the law.
There appears to be a concerted effort among some of the validating elites to paint Dr Rowley as uncouth (uncultured/uncivilised). The expression is often used that his behaviour is unbecoming of a Prime Minister.
That is nothing but a not so veiled attempt to tarnish the image of Dr Rowley by innuendo and otherwise, given among other things, the socio-economic background of his childhood.
I have never met Dr Rowley, but he is a public figure and based on what I have seen of him he strikes me as someone who will not ‘play deceitful’ or ‘put water in his mouth’ to tell you how he feels about any matter. That personality trait endears him to many.
However, there are those persons who find deceit to be charming. To that extent, he may be a radical break with the past. In this regard, do not forget the context in which he was castigated as engaging in “wajang” behaviour. He was seeking to defend good governance and the country’s interests in the matter concerning UDECOTT/Mr Calder Hart.
He has proven himself to be a courageous fighter who was prepared to challenge his own Prime Minister/political leader in pursuit of truth and justice. This led to the removal of Mr Calder Hart from office, the establishment of a commission of enquiry, startling revelations, recommendations for better quality standards of governance, and the defeat of the PNM in the subsequent general elections.
Dr Rowley appears to me to be a serious, sober-minded, hard working individual who is committed to the well-being of the country.
I am deeply disappointed that the editor of a newspaper that professes to be the guardian of democracy could demonstrate such insensitivity and lack of balance that I initially thought his editorial was a media release from the UNC.
It is my sincere hope that, with the exception of excrement, the editor will give better thought as to what he commits to paper in the future.
Editor’s Note: The above letter was submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by David Pierre. Letter writers are urged to keep their submissions between 400 and 800 words.