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Raffique Shah


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PM’s Credibility at Stake

By Raffique Shah
Nov 27, 2011

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s credibility is on the line with allegations of a plot to assassinate her and three of her ministers. This latest drama, coming at the tail end of a contentious State of Emergency, has drawn scepticism from many quarters. The PM and her security chiefs must now deliver the heads of the would-be assassins on the proverbial platter, or face loss of face and much more debilitating political fallout.

While it is true that Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs was the person who first alerted her to the plot, he has little to lose if it turns out that the alleged plot is a hoax. Based on the very limited information made public since several persons were arrested in connection with the conspiracy, the public watches and waits to see how the drama unfolds.

Let me try to put the issues at stake in some perspective. If there is a plot to kill the PM, that is both a criminal and national security matter. In this country, while there are mad people who would threaten holders of high office, mostly they turn out to be blowhards, not would-be killers.

Of course, we have had experiences that point us in another direction. The most notable was the Muslimeen’s failed coup of 1990. Congress of the People chairman Joseph Toney has noted that the enquiry into that event has so far revealed that there was intelligence that ought to have alerted the political directorate and security forces to an imminent assault on the NAR government.

Apparently, no one took them seriously. There are also allegations that certain politicians had prior knowledge of the coup, something I personally find difficult to digest. Whatever our differences, however acrimonious they become, I cannot think of one politician then, or today, who would know of impending illicit activities and not report them to the relevant authorities.

Maybe I am being naive here. I tend to see good in every person, even in politicians. But I am also mindful of some extremist events that have taken place which suggest we should take threats to prominent persons seriously.

Many people may have forgotten that on the night of August 12, 1983, three bombs exploded at an international conference of the Ahmadiyya movement held at a Marabella school. Fourteen persons were injured and the police discovered that a fourth, more lethal bomb that had failed to explode. No one was ever held in connection with that incident. By way of explanation, I should add that Ahmadiyya Muslims are not accepted as brothers-in-Islam by the mainstream Sunnis and Shias.

Then on the night of June 20, 1995, gunmen ambushed and killed ex-AG Selwyn Richardson outside his Cascade home. Two suspects in that murder were themselves killed shortly afterwards in mysterious circumstances. And on another occasion, details of which I do not now recall, gunmen had shot at a vehicle from the presidential pool.

What these attacks suggest is that we ought never to treat with threats against prominent persons lightly. The police and other security agencies must thoroughly investigate them, and, in instances where they find credible evidence, arrest, charge, and bring the perpetrators to justice before they could harm their intended targets.

Having noted all of the above, I find that the sequence of events in the current scenario does not conform to policing designed to bring the suspected perpetrators to justice.

Why, for example, almost a week after the alleged plot first surfaced, has no one been charged with any offence? The police claim that more than 12 persons have been arrested. But these men are detained under the State of Emergency regulations, not charged with any crime.

Must we assume that after they became aware that plans were afoot to kill the PM, the police acted before they gathered justiciable evidence? Because if they did, it might well be a case of them repeating the hundreds of botched arrests under the Anti-Gang law.

In the absence of fuller disclosures, people can only speculate on what is happening. Assuming that persons who see their criminal empires under threat, or who have suffered considerable financial losses, decide to make the PM pay. Say, too, they see AG Anand Ramlogan as a legitimate obstacle to their designs, so they plan to “take him out”. But Chandresh Sharma? Roodal Moonilal?

What have these two harmless ministers done to warrant assassination?

Another issue that arises is whether the plot amounts to treason or merely to conspiracy to commit murder. If the would-be killers merely plotted to kill the PM, does that constitute treason? Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated US President John Kennedy 47 years ago, was charged with murder, not treason.

An attorney friend of mine noted that while killing a prime minister might amount to murder, adding the AG to the list could possibly constitute treason. How so? Well, under the Westminster model, the PM and the AG constitute a government.

Whatever the truth about the events of the past few days, people’s credibility is at stake here, none more so than the Prime Minister’s. Should the police fail to successfully prosecute the persons they have detained, it is the PM, not Gibbs, who will pay the price.

The PM ought to have demanded that the security forces deliver the heads of the would-be assassins on a sound legal platter before she decided to go public with the plot.

Now, she has to hope the arrests lead to charges, and ultimately to convictions. Anything short of that is politically scary—for her.

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