The debacle that has engulfed the two former attorney-generals is illuminating. We have had a ringside seat to see how powerful men among us run their affairs.
We understand clearly how little our daily pain factors into their calculations. We see how reckless they can be because of the lack of consequences faced. They fritter away our hard-earned cash while simultaneously disappointing us at every turn.
These men defiled the Office of the Attorney-General. Nobody seems to know how the former attorney-general, Anand Ramlogan, picked Vincent Nelson to represent the State in a contentious case between two administrations. What qualified Mr Nelson over all other possible choices?
At the time of his selection, Mr Nelson was not a partner in his Chambers, 39 Essex Street—a prestigious one with almost 20 King’s Counsels listed. Even though he gained a partnership in 2011, he resigned in January 2016.
This resignation preceded his suit against the Trinidad Government over fees due him. In the intervening period under Ramlogan, he earned TT$40 million and had another TT$11 million outstanding.
What would have allegedly led Messrs Ramlogan and Gerald Ramdeen to believe that Mr Nelson would be agreeable to paying the alleged “kickback”? Mr Nelson’s notarised statement alleges that the meeting, the second time they met, to discuss this conspiracy occurred at the Attorney-General’s office!
Unlike Messrs Selwyn Richardson and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Mr Faris Al Rawi, in his haste, bungled the prosecution’s case. Even though in October 2016, he proclaimed a “follow the money” strategy to uproot crime, he seemingly did not.
The precedent of forensic accounting work to support criminal and corruption cases is well established locally. Bob Lindquist is a household name.
Neither Ramlogan nor Al Rawi is on record of using his services in these cases. With Lindquist’s help, Selwyn Richardson won his claim against the estate of John O’Halloran, the original “Mr Ten Percent”, for the bribes paid in the Tesoro scandal.
The tale of John Rahr, who was gravely ill in hospital then, should be familiar to Mr Al Rawi. Only when confronted with the accounting and other evidence, did Mr Rahr confess to organising the Tesoro bribe payment.
Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj has not been as fortunate in that Lindquist’s work in the local courts in the Piarco Airport case is still unresolved.
Why did Al Rawi choose to depend on the same Vincent Nelson “to a very, very, large extent”? What did he expect would have happened? Should he not have learned from history?
As a nation, we must discard the myth that honest leaders are needed to keep us from corruption. As was demonstrated in this debacle, strong independent institutions are our saviours. There is a need for independent oversight if our politicians are to be kept honest.
In the case of the Tesoro scandal, the Express was the media house that relentlessly pursued the story. The Express broke the story about the Al Rawi/Nelson “secret” arrangements. The stubborn refusal of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution prevented the outrageous plan to pardon Mr Nelson.
The incredible emerging side stories show that not even Al Rawi’s colleagues discerned the risks.
This case demonstrates the need for transparent procurement practices in every sphere of public life. It is noteworthy that in the Tesoro situation, the public servants were the parties raising questions about the suitability of the selected bidder (Ryan, 2009).
All the major local scandals reveal unholy alliances between business interests and politicians. What is evident is that policy decisions play a minor part in these partnerships, with personal relationships being the dominant thread.
This bias leads to the “them versus us” mindset that poisons the well of public opinion.
Politicians and allied business interests seek personal enrichment enabled by the “divide and rule” strategy. This poisoning leads to deeply entrenched partisan positions, allowing devious persons to get illegitimate control of government contracts. Patronage becomes accepted as the norm.
We have seen the use of shell companies and deals that eliminate all competition. Where will this lead?
What is the cost of such behaviour to the nation?
Let us consider the discussion in the 39 Essex Street Chambers in 2016. Evidently, the British frowned on what had transpired, and Mr Nelson was concerned about a possible jail term in that jurisdiction.
How will we create wealth when shady practices prevail? Why would serious businesspeople come here? What is different between having corrupt leaders and the rule of drug dealers? Why would our young people desire to stay in a lawless, brutal place?
This type of behaviour transfers wealth to a chosen elite. The poor will be starved of essential goods and services, but the Fortunates will live sumptuously. The latter will subsidise the election machinery and reduce our country to a bazaar of grubby merchants, legal and illegal. That behaviour opens the doors to gangs which can then challenge the police.
How do we escape this death spiral? We have to fund our independent institutions adequately. We have to elevate public service as a career option.
We have to operationalise the new procurement rules. We have to start now to push back.
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