Trinidad and Tobago


Who the hell is Tim?

July 04, 2001

ADD the trademark black hat and starched collar and he presents the classic image of an undertaker, with soft sad eyes, lips that curl downward and from cheek to chin a conspiracy of facial lines completing the portrait of a grim reaper.

But in matching up packaging with product potential, a terrible mischief must have occurred. In fact, Dr Tim Gopeesingh is a patently affable fellow, a gynaecologist with flourishing practice, equally dedicated to saving lives at large on the public level.

Tim is also a senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies School of Medicine, patriarch of a cheerful family and in what spare time obtains, the perfect host, visibly comfortable with people from all strata of society.

Trapped in tall and burly frame, he sportingly put it to best use for his country, serving long and successfully as a fast-bowler, first with the Queen’s Park Cricket Club, then on the national team. In pursuit of excellence, some say, he chalked up what must be his only experience with menacing behaviour. Now, all of that is very nice.

But Tim is also a politician. So, while nothing in his resume suggests singular administrative ability, he has been thrust into positions of supreme influence at major health care institutions. Most recently, he chaired the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA), relinquishing the post only upon being made a Government Senator.

It is this succession of portfolios that brought him under the national and particularly the political microscope, as a million-dollar NWRHA scandal broke. Attorney General Ramesh Maharaj last Friday laid before Parliament Auditor General Jocelyn Thompson’s report on the NWRHA, locating the scandal squarely under Tim’s three-year watch.

From as early as the following day, Opposition Leader Patrick Manning cast the first stone, spearheading a call for Tim’s resignation from the Senate. On Monday, Finance Minister Gerald Yetming said the report alone was not good enough to take to the police, although disciplinary action is indicated—once culprits are identified.

So, precisely why Tim should resign from the Senate still has not been made altogether clear. If Mr Manning’s contention is that any worthy Senator must—as a minimum requirement—be able to properly chair the board of a Regional Health Authority, then, in all fairness, every member of his party’s contingent in the Upper House should now be reassessed on that distinctly perilous basis.

For nothing in reports of the scandal suggests a lack of integrity or outright skulduggery on Tim’s part. As non-executive chairman of a firm with 7,000 employees, caring for hundreds of thousands, with an annual budget of $250 million and doctors and nurses taking turns at staging industrial action, it’s a helluva lot to oversee; working at it only on a part-time basis.

Sheer vastness of such operations often obfuscates questionable dealings right under the chairman’s nose, even where specialist administrators are in charge and on a day-to-day basis. And by his own admission, even if he were executive chairman, he would not have been able to pick up a lot of the deficiencies or loss of internal controls in the system.

A not-unwilling victim of The Peter Principle, it appears that Tim’s culpability extends only as far as exaggerating both his personal capacity for effectively discharging the function and the abilities of persons to whom he delegated sensitive responsibilities.

But the revered bowler scoring a duck while at the NWRHA crease is quite different from his stealing one, or engaging in the corrupt practice of match-fixing. Endorsing the stashing of large amounts of cash in the personal accounts of directors, for however short a time or noble a purpose, betrays a spectacular misunderstanding of fiscal procedures.

So while Tim was not the most astute chairman in the history of medical facility administration, it doesn’t mean he is now a good-for-nothing who shouldn’t be allowed near Parliament. Indeed, until such time as the commissioned audit discovers information that links him to some wrongdoing or a fundamental breach of the agreed ethics, Mr Manning has no grounds for calling on Tim to resign.

More than anyone else, the Opposition Leader cannot support a witch hunt or massage criteria to suit political opportunity. The only issue must be whether Tim has satisfied the prerequisites and ongoing societal and moral requirements of a Senator. If so, be it resolved he remains in the Upper House.

Tilting at his ability to make a contribution as a Senator, purely on the basis of a disappointing performance as non-executive chairman of an RHA is, as the song says, talking foolishness. In seeking to address the perceived problem, Mr Manning might even be calling it by a wrong name. After all, Tim didn’t appoint himself to either position.

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