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Raffique Shah


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Cherish the few honest directors, Senator King

June 18, 2006
By Raffique Shah

I would normally dismiss comments like those made by Senator Mary King, in her response to my column on the Public Accounts (Enterprises Committee, the way the late Dr. Eric Williams did, which I shan't elaborate on (ask Chalkdust!). But the issues I raised, and her convoluted attempt to evade them by defending the very parliamentary privileges I condemned, have forced me to respond. The goodly senator may need a lesson in history. Let it be known that as MP for Siparia in 1976-81, I was among members of the first PAEC, at age 30, when she was not yet in parliamentary pampers. I was also schooled in May's Parliamentary Procedures by the best in the business, late House Speaker Arnold Thomasos.

Having established my bonafides, let me deal with her attempt to hood-wink unsuspecting readers. I argued that the PAEC had set itself up as a latter-day Inquisition, which she agreed with. In fact, she referred to a book by one Derek Lee, which, in her words, extolled the virtues of parliamentary privilege, and made select committees "Inquisitors of the Realme".

She claimed I "denigrated our parliamentarians". Oh yes, Senator King? How often have your esteemed parliamentarians, while debating in the House and Senate, descended into the gutter to the extent that the respective presiding officers have had to order their comments struck off Hansard and not reported in the media? Your parliamentarians do not need me to denigrate them: they have done a good job of it themselves!

How often, Senator, have members of both chambers pilloried ordinary citizens without a shred of evidence to support their spurious charges? Is that what privilege is all about? Many have suffered in silence as they became victims of outright lies and vitriol.

If other people were to make similar, unfounded charges, they would be hauled before the courts and made to pay for their unbridled, lying mouths as one MP did when he stepped out of his privileged crease.

Yet you defend your halo-topped colleagues, whose behaviour at times is worse than anything that could be found on George Street of yesterday (apologies, dear jammettes).

King admitted that "hard questions" put to directors and executive managers who appear before the PAEC "are sent in by the public". So anyone can put crap on a piece of paper, as happened in Plipdeco's case, and she and her colleagues use it as gospel to grill people who volunteer to serve. As for members of the PAEC being "qualified" to investigate state corporations, directors and managers, tell us more about that, Senator. Some MPs and senators are not even qualified to sit on toilet seats, far less the plush, cushioned ones paid for by John Public. And speaking of payment, the senator suggested that directors are well paid. Does she live on another planet? The stipend most directors get is insufficient to meet even our gas bills. In her case, at least her senator's stipend can supplement her wardrobe requirements and buy her more fancy hats, as she herself said some time ago.

I need add there is one point she made that I agree with absolutely. The people have a right to know how their patrimony is being spent. In this regard, they should first fire three-quarters of those who sit the parliamentary chambers, since they are the ones who fritter away billions of taxpayers' dollars. Most do not earn their keep, either as representatives of the people or watchdogs of the public interest.

If directors err, or are corrupt, they will be made to pay by virtue of the stringent Companies Act and the vigilant Securities and Exchange Commission. Enron, which she cleverly slipped into her column, was brought to heel not by politicians. It was the SEC and the public prosecutors in the USA who dealt due justice to Jeffrey Skilling and Ken Lay. If anything, their facilitators were not directors but politicians. It was then Governor George Bush who helped Enron by deregulating the Texas energy sector.

At Plipdeco, we directors voluntarily subjected ourselves to scrutiny by three independent bodies on what was mischievously deemed a "questionable purchase". I should add that we are also scrutinized by the Integrity Commission, and to date none of us have been charged with false declarations or corruption. The same cannot be said of Senator King's haloed parliamentary colleagues.

In fact, if the PAEC and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) were doing their jobs thoroughly and objectively, they would probably have unearthed many more dubious connections between parliamentarians and certain private and public companies.

These are matters that should engage Senator King's attention. As one-time spokesperson for Transparency International, she should not use her privileged periscope to peep up the wrong apertures. Look closer at the tainted chambers of parliament, Senator. And cherish the few honest men and women who risk ridicule and worse only to serve their country.