Owing to my commitment to take part in Raoul Pantin’s play Hatuey I was unable to write a column last Sunday. I was therefore unable to make timely comment on the contentious Budget debate and the feeding trough for favoured lawyers exposed in the course of that debate.
Happily the distinguished Terrence Farrell provided a column, which made the important distinction between justifiable investigation and so-called witch hunts.
In my view, a new Government ought not to be criticised for exposing apparently extravagant spending by a predecessor Government. Accordingly the robust language of the Minister of Finance in opening the Budget debate ought not to attract the same condemnation as the “stink mouth” incident and the remarks that provoked it or the “Princess” incident.
Those two incidents remind us of the shameful Vernella tirade.
Even in the Senate there have been unseemly verbal bouts. It would be useful for Parliamentarians, including all members of the new Government, to take the word of several commentators that coarse behaviour and antics in the Budget debate have left the public disappointed with the new Parliament and diminished the feeling that some good might come out of political change.
By contrast, following the dire inadequacy of the Budget statement regarding culture, the arts and culture community was somewhat encouraged by the Minister of Culture’s contribution to the debate.
I refer to her reported statement that “a strong policy” for grants and funding was to be developed at the Ministry to increase transparency, accountability and fair play.
I did have an opportunity to comment last Sunday on the bonanza for favoured lawyers, based on questions from a Trinidad Express journalist.
I recommended that the Solicitor General be re-empowered to retain external counsel to act for the State, as had been the practice before Attorneys General from both major political parties respectively, grabbed that function leading to politically inspired preferences and latterly to huge abuses of the public purse.
The following past practices also ought to be re-established: The assignment of attorneys employed in the offices of the Solicitor General and Chief State solicitor to work with external Counsel when the Solicitor General retains external Counsel, as opposed to briefing out all the functions in the case.
The use of external Counsel should usually be limited to Queen’s or Senior Counsel.
There is also no reason why the State should not publish the fees it is generally prepared to pay when external Counsel are retained subject to any carefully negotiated uplift in cases of unusual complexity.
In my last column I described some of my Hatuey experience. Since then, on my way to a performance, I had an exchange on the pavement outside the Central Bank Auditorium with an operative on board the notorious wrecker.
This compels me to return to the wrecking operation, which is a constant source of grief to citizens, not because illegal parking should be condoned, but because wrecker operations are frequently arbitrary and irrational.
As the incident I am about to relate demonstrates, a key requirement of the motor vehicle and road traffic legislation is frequently ignored. Towing a vehicle is authorised if the driver or other person in control or in charge of the vehicle cannot be found or refuses to remove the vehicle.
I was already out of my vehicle, which a helper was driving, on my way toward the auditorium, but the wrecker nevertheless bore down on my vehicle.
As mentioned before, Park Street, a main thoroughfare, is clogged every day between Richmond and Charlotte Streets as a result of illegal parking but the wrecker does not deal with that continuous problem.
The wrecker seems to prefer easier and more quickly profitable targets. We do not know how the profits are distributed.
Is the wrecker operated less with focus on illegal parking on streets like Park Street that seriously impedes the free flow of traffic and more on quick money to be made in areas less relevant to our traffic problems?
Who gets the fees drivers pay to obtain release from the wrecking compound?
With these issues not far from my mind I found that my feelings toward the oppressive and irrational conduct of the wrecker on that day were best expressed by gesture.
The official on board the wrecker felt it necessary to drive up and reprimand me for the gesture and to note that it came from “an elder.” I answered with an invitation to discuss the oppression of the wrecker.
Not surprisingly, the invitation was ignored.
I am not aware that elders must be acquiescent, particularly in the abuse of coercive powers. To the contrary, many more elders need to speak out against oppressive behaviour, as I do in these columns.
So-called civil society in our country is often more inert and prone to seek status than it is critical.
A greater level of engagement might restrain parliamentarians and wreckers, as well as other purveyors of unfair, arbitrary and unaccountable behaviour.