If the priest could play...
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 24, 2022
Liberty trains for liberty. Responsibility is the first step in responsibility. Even the restraints imposed in the training of men and children are restraints that will in the end make greater freedom possible.
—WEB Du Bois, John Brown
When we voted for the PNM in 2015, we felt that we were voting to end corruption and to bring to justice those who had stolen from the State. Unfortunately, we were wrong. Seven long years after PNM's ascendancy to power, no one has been found guilty of any major crime of corruption, but then again, all those allegations may have been a mirage in our collective imagination.
And just when we thought that illusion had dissipated into the darkness of night, we are presented with an intriguing confession from Fitzgerald Hinds, the Minister of National Security and line minister for the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. He says: "When I was Minister of Works... from 2015 to 2020, I was approached and offered a watch valued at $78,000 US dollars." (Express, May 12.)
What did he do when the offer was made? "I chased the offer [and presumably, the person who made the offer] out of my office and immediately called my Prime Minister and shared those facts with him."
What did the prime minister do?
Apparently he did nothing.
What was Hinds' justification for not accepting a bribe from this distinguished leader? "I accustomed wearing my lil' Seiko, comfortable like I wearing this morning, and I say well that will not only weigh down my integrity, it will weigh down my hand."
No matter how exemplary Hinds thought his integrity and his down-to-earth manner were, he had an obligation to call the cops rather than the prime minister. However, such is his fidelity to his prime minister (not to the Constitution of land) that he could not do the right and legal thing.
Larry Lalla, an attorney like Hinds, got it right when he wrote: "Minister Hinds as a senior attorney-at-law, and seasoned legislator, and the Prime Minister, as head of Government, should know that under Section 3 (2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, the offer of a bribe to an office-holder is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for ten years." (Express, May 13.)
On reflection, I wonder if the social status of the person who offered the bribe had anything to do with Hinds' rejection of it. Also, what would Hinds have done if someone less reputable than the briber had offered him a bribe of a lesser value?
Minister Hinds is an honourable man. Sometimes, though, he is so blinded by his self-imposed gravitas that he just doesn't see things as clearly as he ought to, and this becomes a problem in matters of the State. It also sets a bad example to those who look up to him and the PNM for leadership and the results they hope to achieve through the implementation of the Whistleblower Protection Bill.
The Prime Minister says corruption is "widespread in Trinidad and Tobago" and that "the time has come to stop pretending the angel Gabriel will come down to save us". He even admonished: "If you know something, say something and this country will protect you as far as we are able to." (Express, February 20.)
He even told us: "There are hundreds of thousands of people who will never see one million dollars in their lifetime. But then there are others in nice white cotton shirts, nice polished shoes, in air-condition, eating the best, drinking the best, driving the best, talking the best and they are in fact the cancer in our society."
And isn't this the problem? Someone, "not any common man or some uneducated, unemployed fellow, but an educated leader with access to information and the security platform" (Hinds' description), went into Hinds' office and offered him a bribe. Hinds knew something, said something, but did nothing. Did he listen to his leader on this matter?
When the PNM came into power in 1956, it pledged to uphold "morality in public affairs" although it did not meet an inherently corrupt government in power. If there was corruption, it was perpetrated by the colonial government. The British stole our labour and wealth in different ways, but not through bribery and corruption. If Trinidad and Tobago became a corrupt society thereafter, it did so because of the actions and/or non-actions of those in power, both the PNM and the PDP (the People's Democratic Party under Bhadase Sagan Maraj) in its various incarnations.
Even Karen Tesheira, a former minister, who was so hard on the Government's corruption recently, admitted that she, too, was offered a bribe. She, too, may have reported it to her prime minister, Patrick Manning. She didn't notify the police. We do not know if Manning did anything about it.
As I write, another government minister is accused of financial improprieties. I wonder if things would have been different if all those who were accused of being offered bribes or those who took bribes had been punished for their wrongdoings.
And so the rot continues because those in power are not prepared to do the right thing, even in small matters. We can't expect the angel Gabriel to come down from heaven to save us, but we should not be surprised when the powerless in our society refuse to report what they see, believing as they do, "If the priest can play and be irresponsible, then why can't we?"
It all has to do with the moral and spiritual values of our elected representatives and the examples they set while they are in power. The citizenry must also play its part, but it needs responsible leadership.
Prof Cudjoe's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe
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The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe