The dismissal of Marlene McDonald could be the start of something good, if it helps to shift the system towards more accountable power. If this were to happen, it would mark a real revolution.
The more predictable outcome, however, is that her dismissal will stand as a new marker of polarisation rather than a new standard of politicisation.
As impotent minions of the old order, we will continue to conspire against change while agitating for it, digging our heels into the old, closing ranks against the new, and rationalising our fear of change as an act of loyalty.
In doing so, however, let us at least not delude ourselves about the opportunity that we’re turning our backs upon.
However rattled he might be by having had to fire an arch lieutenant so early in his term, it is precisely the baptism of fire needed to prompt Dr Keith Rowley into taking the leap from PNM leader to leader of T&T.
If he passes up on the chance, he would hardly be the first to do so.
Putting party above country is our norm, not the exception. And until he was pushed into dismissing McDonald, Dr Rowley was sizing up to be true to standard form.
In defending Cabinet members Marlene McDonald and Camille Robinson-Regis, Dr Rowley has shown that he does not understand why the electorate has brought him and his party to office. Perhaps he thinks it has to do with a superior campaign strategy or, as Carly Simon might say, he probably thinks it’s about him.
If so, to the extent that he does, it would hardly be surprising. Even puppets installed for convenience celebrate victory as the result of their quality leadership.
Whatever the gifts he brought to the campaign, however brilliant the campaign strategy and whatever the size of his financiers’ war chest, the PNM owes its return to power after a single term in opposition to the break down of public trust in the PP administration.
So deep was the chasm of that distrust that it swallowed the PP’s lavish expenditure programme, its massive propaganda network and Persad-Bissessar’s accessible charms.
This failure to understand the role of trust and distrust in the political process has led Dr Rowley into classic mistakes which have been burning up the political currency with which he came into office.
His handling of the matters involving Ms McDonald and Mrs Robinson-Regis suggest that, like his predecessor, he has not located himself and his government on the side of public trust.
Had he done so, he would not be asking the public for blind acceptance that Mrs Robinson-Regis has properly explained her TT$93,000 bank deposit with the evidence unseen.
Apart from blind loyalists, thinking citizens would expect to see the evidence that has satisfied the PM and his AG.
After all, it was Minister Robinson-Regis herself who brought the issue to the public with a number of claims that will remain unsubstantiated until the evidence is publicly presented.
Hard experience has taught the T&T public not to buy cat-in-bag, no matter how high the office nor how important the official.
The matter of Marlene McDonald has opened Pandora’s Box on the operations of the government, parliament and political parties.
The constituency salary payments that brought her down were no secret from Parliament. Widely recognised as the spouse of Ms McDonald, it should’ve been clear to the Office of Parliament that its salary payments to Michael Carew’s bank account was in contravention of its own rules.
Whether recognised or not, however, the situation suggests that Parliament has introduced a rule that it is either delinquent in policing or does not have the framework or resources to police.
The incident has also exposed the completely arbitrary nature of the payments and quantum of payments made to constituency staff.
We shouldn’t have to wait for Kirk Waithe’s FOI request for payment data at all 41 constituencies to recognise the deficiencies of a publicly-funded system operating without processes of accountability.
As the bastion of accountability for public funds, it is sheer madness for Parliament—of all entities—to be managing its TT$22 million-plus annual constituency salary budget without checks and balances.
Having had the lid blown by the McDonald expose, the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate should urgently move to establish an in-depth investigation into this issue as well as the entire programme of MP funding.
As for the government, both Mrs Persad-Bissessar and Dr Rowley have fallen victim to the idea that they are equipped and well-placed to investigate their own ministers and clear them of wrong-doing.
This is the old colonial power system at work in which prime ministers assume the authority of the all-powerful governor.
In 2016, it is long past the time for independent and transparent systems of investigation and accountability.
As it stands, unless and until prime ministers wish to rid themselves of political liabilities inside the cabinet, they have no vested interest in doing the right thing as opposed to the right thing for their political interest.
Until there is constitutional reform to this end, prime ministers can save themselves and their governments from the pitfalls that devastate public trust, erode public support and get them kicked out of office by keeping an arm’s length from investigations into the conduct of all their appointees.
As experience has repeatedly shown, in failing to do so, they are quickly consumed by the fires set by others.