Raffique Shah


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The last chapter

June 09, 2002
By Raffique Shah

NOW that Steve, Brian and Ish of "I want to thank three men" fame-quote, Basdeo Panday, elections night, 1995-have been arrested and charged with corruption related offences, is anyone surprised that Panday has chosen to take a long trip abroad, ostensibly to raise funds? Really, if I were in Panday's boots, in these perilous times I would take extensive leave of absence from party and country. In fact, he could now be likened to some of his predecessor politicians in the old, corrupt PNM, many of whom he has warmly embraced into the UNC fold over the past few years.

Now, as Panday finds himself as the first Prime Minister of this country to have faced the courts-and lost-in two civil matters, and being the subject of several ongoing investigations, he's probably working his way into the Guinness Book of Records. If he does get there, he would rival our other "Guinness" achievement, the oversized football jersey that would probably put us, as a nation, on par with the man with the longest fingernails, a sickening sight even in photograph. I'm sure that the TTFA's Oliver Camps, who reportedly made a valiant attempt to post bail for Steve Ferguson, must be very excited about our "jersey" being entered into the pages of the famous book even as our football team sits at home watching the World Cup on television.

I tell you, many things are rotten in the State of Trinidad and Tobago, with the stench emanating in the main from the bowels of the UNC. Ferguson's arrest last week will have hardly surprised anyone. The Saville Row suit of respectability that was once characterised the executive suites in insurance companies has been reduced to no more than a vagrant's attire, thanks to "smartmen" like Steve. Because when the stench of the prison must have hit him last Monday night as he was escorted to a cell, his suit probably felt it belonged more to Tamarind Square than the stinking confines of the Port of Spain Prison.

Some time ago, shortly after the other five were arrested for matters relating to the new Piarco airport, I had advised that if one must "make a jail", it is best done when one is young. The average age among prisoners nowadays must be around 25. Imagine Ferguson, who must be over 55, being thrown into an overcrowded cell with such young bandits, drug pushers, murderers and rapists. It's something that will remain etched in his psyche for the rest of his miserable life. Even if he is freed at some stage of the court proceedings, that one night in jail will have affected him physically, mentally and psychologically.

And while we are on UNC "old geezers" who seem to be queuing up at upper Frederick Street, how can I forget the old Brian Chen? Chen, 77, was arrested last week on a fraud charge related to some missing millions of dollars from the Unit Trust Corporation. For those who do not know Chen from Chan, the former is an old self-proclaimed Marxist who was detained in 1970 during the State of Emergency. Even then, he was uncomfortable in the extreme, and was among the first few to appear before the Seemungal Tribunal, a body that was set up to hear and determine appeals by the detainees. Needless to say, at the end of the short hearing, Brian's backside was back in jail.

This time around, he was resurrected by that old patron of rebels, John Humphrey. It was Humphrey, who, as Minister of Housing, brought him back (and if ever you lay eyes on him, you'd know I mean 'old' quite literally) into some unit at his ministry. I was surprised when I heard that Chen was back on the political scene. I was not surprised when I learnt of his recent arrest. I don't know if Humphrey was. But if he (Humphrey) was monitoring what was taking place with some of his senior contracted advisors, he would not have been shocked when Chen was arrested, handcuffed and carted off to a cell.

With so many UNC financiers, ex-ministers and party cronies facing trials for stealing (well, that's what corruption amounts to, right?), one wonders why this party has not crumbled into dust, the way Sodom and Gomorrah did. Instead, these boldfaced men and women continue to lie to the population (yeah, I sometimes listen to Carol Cuffie-Dowlath on radio I92.5FM), to hide behind the fig leaf of "presumption of innocence until proven guilty". Sure, that's a legal maxim that's well recognised in our system of justice. Hell, even Dole Chadee was "presumed innocent". But it's kind of hard to even think about that when-what?-close to a dozen of your frontline men are facing serious charges. And that's not counting scores more who are being actively investigated by either the Fraud Squad or the Anti-Corruption Unit.

If I were in any group, not merely a political party that held power, in which so many of my colleagues have been hauled before the courts, I would distance myself from it as fast as I could. But because our culture and tribal politics allow for con men and thieves to be seen as heroes, those who mislead the sheep couldn't care less. Night after night we hear them on the airwaves with their inane slogan, "18-18, we cannot wait, Manning set the election date". In fact, a stupid song composed by Adesh Nanan has been actually recorded and is being played for the entertainment of the poor sods who are trapped in the politics of Elvira.

Even so, though, Panday, wily fox that he is, and a London-trained actor, must know when it's "curtain time". The hour of reckoning is nigh. So his trip abroad was no surprise to me. Nor was his abominable behaviour at the Maha Sabha's Pooja 2002. Here is a man who was supposedly praying one minute and spewing venom the next. Surely, the saying "those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad", applies here. If the man performs any better, he may well qualify for upper St Ann's, not upper Frederick Street!

Really, I believe we are seeing the last chapter in the quixotic political life of one Basdeo Panday being written before our eyes. Sure, the sly fox has outsmarted many lesser politicians en route to gaining the highest political office in the country. But time, like twine, is running out for him. When he goes to Guyana to raise funds for his party, you know he has gone "loco"!

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