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Panday's last resort

By Terry Joseph
June 03, 2005

Opposition Leader and political guru of the United National Congress (UNC) Basdeo Panday will not be in office possibly until late next Tuesday but might have an extended stay "at another place" (as they say in Parliament); from which location he is determined to continue running the party.

Last Tuesday's arrest of Mr Panday and others on charges of corruption was rendered less startling by his decision to decline bail, volunteering to spend in jail the interim until his hearing, albeit with certain comforts not usually available to persons on remand, making it a virtual resort compared to conditions under which other suspects exist.

Quite apart from the current scenario, there are those who additionally allege Mr Panday first had a resort in another country but this new one could be his last. And deliberately so, given his challenge to authorities at a May 9 political meeting in Diego Martin when, in expressing hope he would be jailed, indicated bail would be out of the question.

Of course, Mr Panday's enthusiasm for incarceration could wane swiftly if the courts, by due process, remove all options but right now and perhaps for as long as it takes to achieve closure, he can play to the gallery, knowing there is little chance of experiencing any of the revolting possibilities associated with doing hard time, although he might well prefer to be among the prison's larger constituency.

Already, loyal followers have awarded him the halo of martyrs and almost blasphemously compared him with Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, neither of whom was charged with corruption. In the dizzying coinage of UNC Chief Whip Ganga Singh: Mr Panday is symbolically demonstrating to the country "where we have reached along the slippery slope of anarchy."

Mr Singh also articulated widespread feeling among UNC members that the charges are not only trumped up but were laid at this precise time, primarily to divert attention from the administration's failure to stem violent crime and in the same swing, thwart allegations of skeletons in its own Cabinet; including pointed allegations of bribery levelled at senior Ministers.

Mr Panday and his wife are each charged with receiving over $250,000 on December 30, 1998 from Ishwar Galbaransingh and Carlos John (who, by corollary, are charged with corruptly paying them) to curry favour in securing a lucrative contract-Construction Package 3 in the Piarco Airport development project.

Notwithstanding the old legal saying: "He who represents himself has a fool for a client and an idiot for a lawyer," Mr Panday, an attorney, also chose to stand in his own defence, although neither raising bail nor retaining senior counsel is outside the reach of his supporters; fuelling speculation that he is grandstanding or making for equally awkward conclusions on both issues.

Now we hear Mr Panday will soon proceed on a hunger strike, implying that he considers himself the classic political prisoner and not a citizen charged with a criminal offence. In the sum, his actions are almost guaranteed to inflame certain sections of the population, itself a diversion from the judicial process, as already evidenced by many callers to radio stations airing exclusively Indian-oriented programming, who are interpreting his arrest as racist.

Mr Panday and his followers have every right to think up their most clever defence strategies but to insist his arrest was motivated by purely racist or political motives is to make light of the entire judicial process or worse, deliberately mislead those among us who value as incontestable fact, every word proceeding from platform speakers and irresponsible radio presenters alike.

Mr Singh's comment about police being no longer "automated"
(presumably because the Anti-Corruption Investigative Bureau falls under the Attorney General's office) cavalierly disregards the genesis of that arrangement, which was pioneered by Mr Panday's own AG, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, who initiated the original investigation.

Mr Panday's team is not without a credible argument in comparing his treatment with that of persons aligned to the People's National Movement (PNM) whose transactions have been the subject of similar scrutiny, since allegations of wrongdoing by current Cabinet Ministers aren't exactly recent. Nothing about the process must make it appear there is one kind or morality for UNC suspects and another for PNM members.

It is public knowledge that several influential UNC members wish Mr Panday would demit office as political leader. He would thoroughly justify their claims if, as a last resort in his fight for survival, he ignites less astute party sympathisers to civil disruption, taking us all down in the resulting flames.

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