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Dear Editor: Is ‘UNC corruption’ largely a PNM sales gimmick to derail debate?

“A prominent political scientist devoted newspaper and academic articles to illustrating the UNC as corrupt and also darkly suggested an ethnic propensity to white-collar crime. He wrote: ‘For the UNC, politics is relative; everything is for relatives.’

“The party of all-ah-we-t’ief, Johnny O’Halloran and which spawned corruption-buster Gene Miles, had taken the high moral road…”

The following Letter to the Editor on the supposedly tactical labelling of the UNC party by the PNM was submitted to Wired868 by former CNMG CEO Ken Ali:

Photo: PNM supporters poke fun at the outgoing Prime Minister on 7 September 2015 at Balisier House.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday had nailed down one recurring PNM campaign theme that kept him out of national office following the 2002 general election.

“They kept accusing us of corruption,” Panday said, “and some of the mud stuck.”

He repeated the point on the eve of the 2007 general election, telling a public meeting at St Helena: “For five years, they calculatedly painted the UNC as corrupt. Anything we did, we were corrupt!”

Other influence-shapers also carried the campaign.

A prominent political scientist devoted newspaper and academic articles to illustrating the UNC as corrupt and also darkly suggested an ethnic propensity to white-collar crime. He wrote: “For the UNC, politics is relative; everything is for relatives.”

The party of all-ah-we-t’ief, Johnny O’Halloran and which spawned corruption-buster Gene Miles, had taken the high moral road.

While the UNC boasted that “performance beats old talk,” the PNM kept the corruption drumbeat.

Even against the backdrop of poster child Calder Hart, Patrick Manning spoke loftily to the PNM’s 39th convention—a decade ago—about combating corruption carried out by his political foes.

Photo: Late former Prime Minister Patrick Manning (right) with then UDECOTT executive chairman Calder Hart.
(Copyright The Globe and Mail)

Around that time, Dr Keith Rowley, then a deputy political leader, denounced his own government as corrupt, in a memorable parliamentary address on the heels of his sacking as a minister.

“The PNM is on trial,” Rowley said, amid a swirl of billion-dollar fraud being investigated by the Uff Commission.

In a remarkable declaration, he slammed: “In 1986, when we went to campaign in my area… and you are going door-to-door and they are slamming doors in your face in Westmoorings, in Glencoe, in Bayshore and all they are telling you about is O’Halloran.”

The PNM repeated campaign theme since the electoral rise of UNC was again its mantra in 2015—and is already shaping to be the clarion call for the forthcoming general election.

While the UNC justifiably boasted in 2015 of improving public infrastructure and citizens’ quality of life, the PNM ran a whisper campaign in its enclaves that this fattened the pockets of party insiders.

This convinced a sufficient number of voters in swing constituencies—remember the election is decided by a mere few thousand—and handed the PNM victory on September 7.

The PNM has already launched a propaganda document, which Rowley has termed “a bible of UNC corruption.”

The booklet is tauntingly dubbed: “The patriot’s guide to why never again.”

Photo: Former “Honourable” Government Ministers Anil Roberts (left) and Jack Warner were members of Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s People’s Partnership government.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

Rowley’s recent party convention address in Tobago merited clinical media examination, which was expectedly scant.

He said the country is overwhelmed by a cancer of corruption, and his ambition is to make politics “a noble calling.”

Few challenged the Prime Minister on the absence of public tendering for billion-dollar inter-island boats, lack of a feasibility study for the even more expensive Sandals project—or any other disputed deals with taxpayers’ money.

His recurring message is clear: Caricature the UNC as corrupt and incapable of proper governance.

Most conscientious nationals yawn at the repeated tune three years into the electoral term, but it plays well in the echo chamber where it matters. In the post-truth world, Rowley simply pivots from numerous opposition queries and sounds a dog whistle.

Indeed, post-truth politics is one where emotional appeals rule and dispassionate discussions on policies are sidestepped. Examine many social media posts for raw evidence. Witness US President Donald Trump.

The government’s argument on the contentious amendments to a tax bill provides vivid proof of the PNM’s electoral manner.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (right) poses for a snap with defeated Siparia candidate and Lake Asphalt board member Vidya Deokiesingh who was implicated by a Petrotrin Audit Report into the A&V Drilling company.

The opposition sent in Senator Saddam Hosein with reasoned statements, while the government rolled out its heavy-hitters, who played the PNM’s theme song.

Attorney General Faris al Rawi deadpanned that the UNC is running scared and has something to hide. The facts got lost in the combustible political exchange; no media house bothered with a sober analysis.

To be sure, this is the 2020 election campaign meme. The UNC will bemoan loss of jobs, the murder spree and economic and social instability. The PNM’s poker-faced rejoinder to the electorate will be: Do you really trust these people with your country?

For his part, Rowley is a moving target, with teflon skin, an aggressive take-no-prisoners manner and an angry disdain for scrutiny.

After an analyst thoughtfully questioned him on economy policy, he waved a dismissive hand at a public meeting and declared: “Drink yuh rum and get out mih face!”

The partisans roared.

It says a lot about Trinidad and Tobago and about our political contenders that this is today’s dominant electoral issue.

Photo: I. Got. This!
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley gestures to supporters at Balisier House after the election results on September 7.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

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69 comments

  1. Again the zombism of this island’s people is just mind boggling!!!!!!

  2. Y all corruption bad but it seems inevitable.

    • I don’t want to say it’s inevitable, but a lot of the problem stems from Not enough members of the electorate understanding how deep goes the culture of corruption in this society. When you have a statement like this being made “I venture to say that on the face of the whole earth there is no place more corrupt than Trinidad” and this was made in 1832…..1832, think about it……then clearly the problem is deeper than PNM and UNC

  3. Lets talk about who more corrupt

    • Orrrrr, let’s seriously examine thhe culture of corruption and how deep does it go. See my reply to Collin Cudjoe below

    • A Corey Gilkes wouldn’t you say the PM is talking a pack of ass with his comment? Do you think he was born yesterday? Or does he think with his track record, he could throw out an irresponsible statement like he did knowing full well what the perception is atm and get away with it?

  4. Was UNC/PP corruption an illusion created by PNM.i think not.

  5. And we wonder why after all the billions that passed thru we still undeveloped? People, and that includes journalists who are paid to do the bidding, just cannot be objective.

  6. I love this story and think one day it should be a national debate!!! PNM imo won 2015 election based on the ‘drumbeat’ of UNC corruption. To date after 3 years….not a serious charge has been made, farless any jail time despite loads of evidence like Lifesport. It makes you wonder if this was fictitious or incompetence [current AG]. But wait…. the same rhetoric was used by UNC to win election from the Manning PNM and no jail time either, despite having access to power/files/control of more seats. If we keep looking back it seems this is a cultural trend to do nothing about corruption by both parties.

    • Yes it is.
      Playing on party fanatics ‘ ethnic character assignations, sterotypes, and assassinations’

      That also happens to be true
      That I admire

      “Politics is relative, everything for relatives”

      And if your relative is competent, why not.

      I would be in a drastically different place if my —— relatives werent sabotaging me from 2004 to 2018

      Imagine where and how Trinidad would be if black folk utilized some of these collective principles

      That are economic facets and character that make development of a people possible:

      What he writes of has a name: “Social Fabric”

      Jews as a people are considered to have the highest.

      Indian people on colonial plantations have A Lot.

      As do the one percent.
      Or, see how closeted and inward the Middle Easterners in Trinidad.

      If we had academics in trinidad this is the kind of thing they would explore so when folk bash groups or their own for having it, or not- They know what it is

      SOCIAL CAPITAL
      Black Africans have the least
      As represented when citizens say rowley have no business with his party masses, but in the sole interest of his syrian lobby, financiers, and aspirations.

      His friends regardless of what ethnicity, cause AV petrotrin defrauders — a nontopic when the company no longer exists, ehnt.

      So this topic is more complex than the black african and indian dichotomy most try to bring.

      Economics and Politics of Money and Friend Associations across Ethnic Barriers.

      The Rowkey· Era.

      Lol