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Raffique Shah


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Fourth Estate Outlasts Governments

By Raffique Shah
Nov 14, 2010

Most Cabinet Ministers in successive governments suffer with political foot-in-mouth disease, an affliction that seems endemic to the corridors of power. Others succumb to the "left-hand, right-hand" syndrome. In the latter, persons charged with governing the country, who meet at least once weekly, have differing interpretations of what they discussed and what decisions were made.

The new Partnership Cabinet seems to be stricken with both—which may account for the perception that this is a government in paralysis. PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar needs to rush her full Cabinet into the Political ICU, which, I am told, lies somewhere in St Ann's. If she fails to act soon, the Political Morgue may well be her only other option.

Like many citizens, I am confused by the discordant pronouncements that ministers make all too frequently. Last weekend, Works Minister Jack Warner told contractors that the Government will pay debts owed to them in bonds, not cash. A few days later, Finance Minister Winston Dookeran stated emphatically that the affected contractors will be paid in cash, not bonds.

Then, in what may yet turn out to be the stupidest blunder it has made (thus far), State-owned CNMG terminated Fazeer Mohammed's contract, saying it was part of a cost-cutting measure. As this storm-in-a-teacup erupted, volcano-like, into a national scandal, the explanations given by key government officials were comical.

Line minister for CNMG, Collin Partap, was reported saying he knew nothing about such measures at the media house. Dookeran, whose ministry regulated disbursements to such entities, said he, too, was unaware of cost-cutting at CNMG. If anybody in Cabinet has an inside track on this issue, it would be these two ministers.

Lo and behold, the PM returns from New York and promptly pronounced that Fazeer's firing was related to cost-cutting. And Suruj Rambachan, whose controversial interview seems to have led to "Faz" being fired on the eve of Eid-ul-Adha (quite ironical—this Islamic festival deals with sacrificing animals), said Fazeer was the best thing since Larry King!

Who are we to believe? The PM? Dookeran? Jack Warner? Suruj? Partap? Or is this a case of, "Yuh hear lie? That is lie!"

You see, when persons in authority are trapped in a web of deceit, they try to lie their way out of messy situations. And that's where they are caught—contradicting each other. One or more of these ministers is lying to the public.

They fired Fazeer for one reason: he is one of a dwindling number of media personnel who maintain a fierce independence. "Faz" savaged PNM ministers before and after the last elections. He did not take sides during the elections—at least publicly, on air. And once the new Government settled in, he was equally penetrating when he interviewed its officials or ministers.

His firing had nothing to do with his religion—except, perhaps, in the minds of religious zealots. He was very clear in demarking his personal religious views from his professional conduct. Even as a devout Muslim, what did he say about his religious views that warranted ignorant people dubbing him "ah Taliban"?

He said Islam does not allow women to lead in matters relating to religion. I disagree with that edict, but I am agnostic. I am entitled to my views, Faz to his beliefs.

But, as the venerable CLR James used to ask, tell me, you ignoramuses, what religion allows women to be clerics, far less higher leadership positions? There are no female Catholic priests, and worse, the males cannot marry. The Anglican Church suffered convulsions it is yet to overcome when it decided to allow women to mount the pulpit. Presbyterians have made some progress in this regard, but female reverends are still few.

Back in February 1994, Indrani Rampersad was ordained a "pandita" by the local Arya Samaj arm of the Hindu faith. While many Vedics and other Hindu organisations welcomed her elevation, the mainstream Maha Sabha condemned it most vehemently.

Sat Maharaj, a leader of the Sanatinist Maha Sabha, denounced Indrani, saying, "She represents neither the wider Hindu community nor Hindu women. The Maha Sabha does not recognise women in the priesthood just as the Roman Catholics and the Anglicans do not recognise women as priests."

The only faiths I know of that allow women to assume leadership roles are the Orishas and the Baptists. Indeed, in the latter, there are many female bishops and archbishops.

So Fazeer telling Suruj that Islam does not allow women to hold high religious positions was a non-issue.

Clearly, and this is the pertinent point, the Partnership Government has chosen to stay on a well-beaten path that almost every other government before it has treaded: attack independent journalists with full force. In his time, Eric Williams disposed of a few bothersome scribes. George Chambers chased a TV crew, Basdeo Panday viciously attacked several journalists, Patrick Manning stormed a radio station's studio...

So what else is new? Upon assuming office, PM Kamla said her administration would not trample on media practitioners' freedom of expression. Now, in an embarrassing about-turn, she attributes a clear case of victimisation to "cost- cutting".

Give me a break, PM. That act, and others that are taking place quietly, out of public glare, have bared your government's intent to deal drastically with persons you perceive to be your detractors.

It's a suicidal path, of course. Governments come and governments go, but the Fourth Estate remains intact. So it was in the beginning...

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