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Raffique Shah


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Here today, gone tomorrow

By Raffique Shah
Sep 26, 2010

"So, I expect you to tear into (Herbert) Volney's anatomy in your next column!" many of my readers chorused all of last week. People were itching for me—why me?—to go after the judge-turned-politician, the greatest intervention since, let's say, mouth-organist Cutty Joseph. Or Hardeo Hardath, a PNM "crapaud" who opened his mouth in Parliament only when he yawned.

Hear ye! Hear ye! (my detractors included): I don't do St Ann's' outpatients. In fact, I've never mustered the courage to pop into the mental hospital's manicured, inviting grounds. Some stories I have heard emanating from that institution tell me for my own mental balance, I should stay far from it.

Of course, I don't know that the ex-judge is connected with St Ann's in any way. But if I saw him walking the road in proximity to the hospital, I'd likely think he is an escapee, and promptly call all emergency services. Especially if he keeps muttering, "Mr Spea-kah, sah!" Can you imagine a mad man...'er, sorry, a man, repeating those words, in measured terms, as he makes his way to the Prime Minister's mansion at the top of St Ann's?

That's cause for a national emergency, for calling on SAUTT to come in full force and sort out the man or the situation. If such were to occur, it won't be the first time a mad man has stormed past security and taken refuge in the multi-million-dollar mansion. Hell, up until last May 24, we had a certified schizophrenic living on the premises. So, I imagine Brigadier Peter Joseph, upon receiving such report, may be minded to put my backside in some padded cell at the mental institution, and let "Mr Spea-kah" be.

But wait, Brigadier Joseph is no longer in charge of SAUTT. I almost forgot. Look at how I could have compounded my woes, calling on an SNLR for help. For the non-military mind, that acronym, coming from an institution that thrives on acronyms, means "service no longer required". It's quite different to SLR, which is probably uppermost of Brigadier Peter's mind these days.

It's one thing for a private soldier, or a mutinous lieutenant, to be hauled before the CO and given an SNLR, then unceremoniously find himself skating on his shorts (all kit confiscated!) on the street. I should add that an SNLR always trigger thoughts of an SLR in hand, magazines loaded, and dispatching the SNLRer and his sniggering cohorts to the hereafter.

Now, I don't know Brigadier Peter, never met the man. But I do know the institution he attended, Sandhurst: faecal-hounds don't make the cut at that military academy. I also know he won the "silver stick" upon graduating ("best stick" in my day), which meant he was the best overseas graduate in his Intake. Only two other Trinidad graduates can lay claim to that honour—Col Lyle Alexander, and before him, Lt David Brizan.

Had Peter remained in the military, chances are he might have risen to CDS of the Defence Force. How well I recall when his name surfaced as a possible Minister of National Security in 2002, after Patrick Manning won the elections. I counselled against that. It would have meant that Minister Joseph (not that one, stupid!) would have risen above the then CDS, one Brigadier John Sandy! Worse, Sandy, boss one day, would have had to salute his subordinate the next.

Anyway, Peter later accepted the offer to head this new supra-military-cum-police outfit, SAUTT. Its role was never clearly defined, nor was it ever legitimised—something for which Manning has to be blamed. How could you have an organisation at the forefront of gathering intelligence and leading the fight against crime, operate in a legal "black hole"? Worse, SAUTT was co-opting serving members from the Police Service and the Defence Force, and no one knew of their terms of engagement. We are now told that SAUTT expended $1billion-plus during its existence.

Worse for Brigadier Peter, who headed the unit from its inception, there were rumours to the effect that SAUTT monitored telephone calls of criminals and politicians. Admittedly, these two groups are closely associated, especially where plunder of public funds or private purses is concerned. The straw that broke Peter's back was an allegation by Prime Minister Kamla that the unit tapped into her phone—after she became PM.

If that is true, it is unacceptable. While SAUTT, or any other arm of the protective services with responsibility for gathering intelligence, has the means, and maybe even the need to so do, at least a person who holds high public office should be informed of the surveillance, of the reasons for monitoring their phones.

Joseph denied that his unit "spied" on Kamla. Clearly, she didn't buy that. She fired him in public, standing outside the airport, when she was en route to New York. Now, that was unseemly—much the way ex-Commissioner Philbert was fired by email. Some years ago, Manning fired one official by fax.

Politicians never learn. They wield power like battleaxes, their hapless victims powerless to respond. They don't understand that political power is very finite, while institutions like those in the protective services are permanent.

Politicians are here today, gone tomorrow. Ask Manning—he fell from grace three times! Today, the emperor stands naked. PM Kamla should take warning...better do good...

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