Express - March 4, 2001
By Raffique Shah
POWER, some wise person once noted, is the ultimate aphrodisiac. It also gives those who wield it a "high" that can be so intoxicating, its effects either disgust or amuse the observer. In this tiny "black speck" called Trinidad and Tobago, the power game is more like a circus. The Prime Minister sits in control over a mere 1.3 million souls (the equivalent of a block or two in Chinaís capital city, Beijing), and presides over an annual GDP thatís less than what Microsoftís Bill Gates makes in one day.
Yet, watching the current office-holder insult persons he believes to be lesser mortals, watching his victims cringe as he berates them before international audiences and in full glare of the media, youíd be forgiven for thinking that heís a powerhouse-of-a-politician, a George Bush or a Vladimir Putin.
Last week, just when the nation collectively exhaled, when we "wave it" for Shadow and decided we "nah leaving" because of Denyse Plummer, Basdeo Panday shook us out of our post-Carnival reverie with unwarranted and blistering attacks on DPP Mark Mohammed and "rogue elements" in the Police Service.
The DPP put him in his place in short time. He showed where Panday, who is both a legislator and an attorney, knew nothing about laws his Government enacted in Parliament. But ignorance of the law did not stop Panday who, as Prime Minister, believes he has a God-given right to attack those who, by virtue of the offices they hold, cannot respond to him in kind.
And even after he was exposed as not knowing the very laws, he did not apologise to the DPP. Thatís what power does to most men: it makes them powerfully stupid!
I do not intend to waste an entire column on Pandayís propensity to abuse power. But I must ask his apologists this: when did he discover that there was a "rogue element" in the Police Service? If you remember correctly, when he came to power in 1995, his first act was to buy 100 Cherokee Jeeps for the "poor policemen" who, up until then, had used "donkey carts" to chase after criminals. He heaped praise on the Service and blamed the PNM for all the ills that policemen had encountered in the course of their duties.
Do people recall how Panday, in Opposition at the time, lent support to policemen who had opposed the Scotland Yard inquiry into allegations of corruption in the Service? Yes, thatís when, for the first time in history, cops marched around the Red House in uniforms, some of them armed, as they ranted and railed against National Security Minister Russel Huggins and Prime Minister Patrick Manning. The "Yardies", disgusted by that display of indiscipline, by the fact that it was tolerated by the police high command, and that senior officers had abused them, even drawn weapons on them, fled the country.
Panday cannot deny that he and his colleagues were party to the virtual rebellion in the Service, if only via the statements they made at the time. So when did this "rogue element" emerge? Werenít there always crooked cops, some of whom attained high ranks, and at least one, Randolph Burroughs, who became Commissioner?
For Panday to identify and attack the "rogue element" in the Service at this eleventh hour, seemingly because members of his Government and his party are facing charges for a spate of criminal activities ranging from election-related offences to corruption to murder, reeks of hypocrisy.
The stupor of power, though, does not reside only with the Prime Minister. It extends to all those who believe they are protected because they are frontline members or supporters of the UNC. I need add here that this phenomenon also existed during the "bad old days" of PNM rule when every crapaud that wore a balisier tie or tie pin felt he or she was above the law. Now it runs deep in the UNC. Which is why I argue that most Indians are now behaving the way Africans did during the early days of PNM power, a kind of "never see, come see" attitude thatís repugnant to patriots.
Take the case of attorney Shastri Parsad, who represents ex-minister Dhanraj Singh, who is charged with murdering ex-UNC councillor Hansraj Sumairsingh. Parsad, brother-in-law of Attorney General Ramesh Maharaj, made the outlandish claim that Singhís arrest was a bid by certain investigating officers to "get at the UNC Government and Prime Minister Panday".
He then added fuel to that malicious fire by saying that he "had some knowledge" of the "plot". When the DPP, who was responsible for ordering that charges be laid against Singh, responded to Parsadís verbal assault, the latter again slammed the DPP, this time for making a statement that could prejudice Singhís trial. A case of speak out and be damned, stay silent and be damned.
I wonder if Parsad would have made such charges if his client were not an ex-UNC minister, or if the AG was not his close relative? But the same can be said of other attorneys who are associated with the ruling party. The mice of yesterday roar like lions today, they strut around as if they own the courts, they openly attack from Chief Justice to magistrate, and they are demanding special treatment for their UNC clients.
The few instances of "power drunk behaviour" I have referred to are not isolated, or confined to the legal profession. One sees it in the public service, in the private sector, on state boards, hell, from the cane fields to the oil fields.
"Is we time now" is not just an extremist slogan: itís a kind of badge worn by Lalgees-come-lately who, in their "apan jhat" stupor, fail to see just what has happened to their predecessors, the once-powerful PNM crapauds. The latter, stripped of power and denied largesse, live like political vagrants, begging for a URP handout here, a UNC consultancy there.
Power can be likened to political Viagra. When its potency runs out, your artificially inflated ego can cause you much embarrassment, not to add mental-and physical-torture. Such dim prospects would hardly affect those who have drunk the heady wine of political power.
They recognise their sins only when they are cast into the political La Basse. By that time they are so sloshed, they realise they have imbibed the wine of astonishment. And that lasts a lifetime. Ask Earl Lovelace.
Copyright © Raffique Shah