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Keith Rowley and the Coercive State

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 27, 2015

Sometimes our public officials act in incredible silly ways that are entirely incomprehensible to the ordinary citizen. Dr. Keith Rowley, the leader of the PNM, is locked in a close fight with the UNC, the governing party, for the leadership of the country. Fifteen days before the election the Integrity Commission (IC) demands that he produces certain documents within that period or face the prospect of prosecution.

This infraction occurred eleven years ago. Yet Dr. Rowley is asked to produce this information in the midst of a campaign when he is concentrating his energy on the nitty gritty of a campaign.

Fishing out additional information for the IC is not always as easy as it seems, particularly when the information required is more than a decade old. In 1994 I had purchased a property in the United States of America. In doing so I procured another mortgagee that combined my first mortgage of 1978 with that of my second.

In about 2010, as a director of the Central Bank, the IC wanted to know who held my 1996 mortgage. I could not answer that question since banks in the United States has a practice of bundling mortgages and selling them to other financial institutions after one has purchased a property. Someone who had acquired a mortgage in 1978 or 1994 was not likely to know who held his mortgage in 2010.

It took several months before I was able to sort out this matter. Such information is a not always easy to come by, decades after the particular business arrangement has been transacted and the necessary paper work completed. In other advanced societies, there is a statute of limitations on how long one is required to keep this information. In the US one is required to keep one's income tax information for three years after one has filed one's taxes.

State institutions can be coercive. They can also inflict enormous violence against a citizen. David Runciman, a professor politics at Cambridge University, England, has argued that "Sovereignty is a monopoly on the right [of the state] to use coercive force as a solution to human conflict. Only sovereigns are allowed to hurt people without any comeback" (Politics, 2014). This is what the UNC government is doing to Dr. Rowley.

When a public commission demands that the leader of a political party or the leader of the government produce documents within fourteen days before an election contest such a demand does not only inflict political violence against a citizen at the most crucial moment of a nation's democratic process, it also uses its coercive power to unfairly influence the political outcome of an election.

The question that arises to any casual reader is this: what is so urgent about this information that it must be given in two weeks rather than two months' time. What damage is likely to occur if the IC does not receive this information within two month? Why can't this matter wait until the most important exercise of our democracy is completed within the next two weeks?

In 1922, Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned for six years for sedition after he protested an unjust law. In 1950, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was jailed for one year for leading a "positive action campaign" against British colonialism. His follow citizens voted unanimous for his Convention People's Party while he was in jail and the British was forced to free him.

When a state institution has the audacity to intervene into the political process of a society in such a biased way, the wronged party-in this case-Dr. Keith Rowley has no higher obligation than to not comply with this unjust request that is aimed at his personhood and his political raison d'etre.

Non-compliance and peaceful non-resistance against the unjust actions of the state are the only adequate response to such violent behavior by the state. Such behavior can never be acceptable it a democratic state in any part of the world.

Dr. Rowley has stated publicly his willingness to accept the consequences of his non-compliance with this diktat of the IC. Could you image what a scandal it would be if the ruling regime arrested Dr. Rowley as he pursues the nation's business? Once and for all, such an action would expose the duplicitous manner in which the ruling party has conducted the business of our nation.

Professor Cudjoe was a director of the Central Bank Board for nine years (2003-12).

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