This time last week, a familiar depression settled on me. It is best described by referring to some of what I wrote in November 2010, six months after the so-called “People’s Partnership Government” was in office.
At that time, I suggested: “The bottom line is that a mere six months in office this Government is already super sensitive to intelligent commentary.”
I asked: “Are we going to bump along the same old rutted roads” and I worried about “indecision during six months of inaugural meandering.” (See The Daly Commentaries pages 375, 376 and 389).
I cannot yet say definitively whether the promise of this new PNM Government is withering before our eyes after six months because the Government’s communications are poor, bumbling and reactive.
If it discovered gold under the GTL building on the Petrotrin compound, its spokespersons would somehow manage to allow others to make the gold look like brass.
Look at what has happened to minister Camille Robinson-Regis. It is entirely regrettable that someone’s banking business should find its way into the public domain.
I endorse the sensible statement of the President of Amcham that: “all persons have a reasonable expectation of privacy, even if a process of further review is undertaken. Financial Institutions should also always have adequate procedures to protect customers’ privacy.”
Nevertheless, the unfortunate disclosure having been made in the media, the response to it needed to be measured and directed towards whether there had been compliance with current bank procedures regarding source of funds declarations.
Unfortunately, as with some of the responses to the Raymond Tim Kee issue, belligerent partisan blows were dealt against the newspaper, the bank, and sundry commentators.
If the Bank was requiring its customer to comply with source of funds requirements, there are no political sides to be taken with regard to such compliance.
In fact, had Mrs Robinson-Regis been properly advised, she would have kept in the forefront of her mind that as a Member of Parliament and as a Minister of Government, she is a PEP—that is, a politically exposed person—to whom a higher degree of scrutiny is applied as anti-money laundering guidelines mandate.
Financial Institutions are jumpy over compliance with these guidelines because the penalties are great and slackness can have international repercussions.
Some years ago, when I was a non-executive director of a leading financial institution, I went into the institution to deposit a cheque that represented the proceeds of the sale of a car.
To her eternal credit, the teller politely, but firmly, insisted that I must complete a source of funds declaration.
In the case of Mrs Robinson-Regis, the content and the tone of her responses as well as those of the PNM were not only distressingly belligerent. They did not address the fundamental issue of compliance, particularly in respect of a politically exposed person.
Communication of the discontinuance of the lawsuit against Malcolm Jones was equally deficient, even though there was a striking point in the Government’s favour, namely that the lead attorney, who had advised the commencement of the proceedings, was now apparently of the view—in the light of the developments since the commencement—that the proceedings were no longer sustainable.
Unfortunately, that was not skilfully put centre stage in the Government’s response to the suspicion that Mr Jones was given a merciful but an unmeritorious exit from the proceedings.
Let’s see what the Law Association makes of it.
Perhaps the serious deficiency in Government communications is the result of not anticipating the inevitability of cynical responses from a citizenry whose trust in persons in public life is at an all time low.
Hopefully, it cannot be that the only views that matter are those of the zealot circle, typified by Mayor Clyde Paul, of Point Fortin.
Regarding minister Marlene McDonald, Fixin’ T&T has put pages of evidence into the public domain.
There may be some irony in this though. I refer to the current belief in the existence of “a media housing list”, which allegedly establishes preferential treatment of members of the media in the distribution of Government housing stock.
When, as is inevitable, the alleged list—if real—is disclosed, some who have mocked the distress of minister Robinson-Regis at the breach of confidentiality, may have some explaining to do, including an explanation of why this news has been suppressed.
The Government better take a hard look at the operations of both its official communications portfolio and its party’s public relations.
Regardless of its five-year tenure, it will not be possible to run a country where the citizens are constantly angry, disaffected or suspicious.
Most importantly, it is urgent to rebut the feeling that “if the priest could play who is we” in order to have the requisite moral authority to take firm steps against crime.
Meanwhile, our young gymnasts, stay strong. Your careers may be the victim of narrow mindedness and hypocrisy.