I am satisfied that the restrictions on the use of firearms and prohibited weapons contained in the Firearms Act do not readily accommodate “threat assessment training” of politically exposed persons or their families involving the possession and use of firearms.
However we live in extraordinarily violent times in an unstable country. If such training took place in breach of the Firearms Act and if as full a disclosure of the facts as national security permits is given, the public will make its own judgment whether sufficient mitigating circumstances existed. The public might then overlook legal breaches that occurred when the public officials and their families were trained and treat such breaches as a lapse in judgment.
The facts may be sufficiently mitigating even if such training went further than what may have been done in the past. My fellow columnist, Raffique Shah, a former military man, in the Trinidad Express on Tuesday last, put forward matters in mitigation.
The above sets the stage for my comments on Dr Roodal Moonilal’s publication in Parliament of pictures of two teenagers—said to be the children of the Attorney General—each holding what appears to be a high powered weapon at a location said to be an Army Camp in the course of a training exercise.
Comments on these photographs must, of necessity, be tempered because we do not have all the facts and we have not been given the benefit of any comprehensive official statement on the matter.
Against the background of what we do know, should the Attorney General, Mr Faris Al Rawi, resign his office as the Opposition is loudly insisting?
The offences, if any, would have been committed by the persons in possession of the firearms and those who transferred possession to them and not the office holders. The AG is not a likely subject of prosecution. There is also no question of constitutional propriety because the Constitution does not regulate the conduct of the Attorney General or any member of Cabinet.
In this case, therefore, the true tests of whether any question of resignation arises are the requirement—although not a requirement of law—of office holders to have moral authority and whether, the image conveyed by the pictures reveals conduct on the part of the office holder repugnant to good governance.
Before going further, I would like to emphasise that a picture depicts or records its subject but it also conveys a visual perception. Persons looking at a picture may not visually perceive the same thing.
In my view, the image or visual perception of the pictures of the two gun-possessing youngsters are a key part of the problem presented for both the AG and the Army threat assessment trainers in the court of public opinion.
They did their case harm in that forum by a lack of understanding of the ill wind of deep-seated race and class divisions in this society, which inexorably led to a reaction that the photograph represented another example of privilege—permitting something for which more ordinary youngsters would be roundly condemned.
Neither displays of resentment at the disclosure of embarrassing facts nor emotional responses impress or suppress discerning public opinion.
For “ordinary”, read poor and not fair. These deep-seated divisions are in part fuelled by the manifest lack of objective justice in our country and regularly high-handed and unlawful treatment of citizens—like wrecking a vehicle when the driver is present or readily available to move it.
The core facts, as the Leader of the Opposition has stated, are already in the public domain. With the core facts regarding firearm possession already known, one must bear in mind that ultimately it is for the DPP to decide whether any prosecutions should be pursued on the basis of what is shown in the photographs, against those who were in possession of the weapons and those who transferred them.
Conflicts of interest are the enemy of good governance but—on the facts available and given the definitive nature of the photographs and confirmation that the army was the source of the weapons at a controlled location—I do not discern any conflict between the personal interest of the AG and the professional conduct of any of his duties.
He cannot now do much to procure a change in the record of what has happened.
To the extent that the children—said to be the AG’s children—were exposed, they were exploited for partisan political purpose. The Government responses to their exposure were emotional and lacked humility and an understanding of widespread feelings that justice is not objective.
This incident may have undermined the moral authority of the office of the Attorney General, but I doubt whether it has irrevocably impaired that authority or overthrown his ability to perform his duties.
It is probably a waste of time to recommend doing so but what about occasionally saying sorry for lapses of judgment?