In the aftermath of the Motion of No-Confidence(MONC) the issues that would pre-occupy the national consciousness this week were:
- Cpt Gallery Griffith was abusive to an Opposition MP,
- Reshmi Ramnarine has changed her name and was/has been allegedly employed within a Govt Ministry again
- Minister Vernella Alleyne-Toppin has abused the privilege of the Govt Travel Card.
Now the interesting thing in all of this is that many people who often stood up for and spoke out against corruption, malfeisance and abuse under the past PNM regime have been virtually mum this week. Not a comment was made....even more interesting were the comments of people who saw nothing wrong with Minister Toppin using the card in ways for which it was not intended. The rules and guidelines are all there. The card is to be used for international travel, and even though Mrs Toppin is from Tobago, surely she remembers that it is a twin-island republic and knows that Trinidad does not count as international travel. Further, the card is not to be used for withdrawals except when overseas. The various newspapers and radio-programmes this week have painted a picture of total abuse of the card from June to Dec 28th, 2011. In Parliament, Roodal Moonilal fell for the trap created by the Opposition when The Keith said he had receipts to the tune of $4000. Moonilal crowed cockily about what was $4000? And the amount has been paid off in full. By Tuesday of this week we knew that the actual amount was $68,000.00 and that Toppin was in deed and fact overdrawn on the card, whose limit is US$10,000.00.
Toppin, following the examples set by her Prime Minister and other govt colleagues spent the majority of the week ducking the media, and instead claiming she had to attend to her ailing husband....is this the same husband who it is alleged functions as her personal driver and is so in receipt of a government salary? When she eventually emerged from attending to her husband, her response was to send a press release to CNMG in which she indicated that she was not aware that she had done anything wrong. In short, Shoppin Toppin is using ignorance of the law as her defence. But it's stupidly ingenuous if only because she has to sign a document that iterates all the rules of the card. So is Toppin saying that she signed off on the card and never read the rules? Is she saying that as a Govt Minister she is allowed to abuse the system out of ignorance and not have to deal with the consequences? It is alleged that many of the withdrawals at ATMs were done by a close relative of Toppin's and if anyone were to ever get the ATM video footage we might find out who precisely has been using this Govt Travel card all over the country. When reached for comment, the PM insists that the card has been paid off, ignoring the fact that the issue is not the amount owed on the card, but the flouting of the rules and conditions that show that Shoppin Toppin and the government that supports her are capable of corruption and turning a blind eye to it.
What troubles the Pantomime about this is the message it sends. This Govt is corrupt, doesn't care and won't do better. In fact, when a member does wrong, the other members will rush to defend and protect the wrongdoer....all in an attempt to retain its hold on power.
When people voted for the COP, it was hoped that its presence in the Government would provide the voice of reason and restraint and ensure such things didn't occur under a UNC that everyone saw as predatory and parasitic....instead the COP has turned out to be the greatest disappointment.....the Trojan Horse that brought this UNC into Govt....the date rape drug to end all date rape drugs.
If Shoppin Toppin's abuse of the public coffers wasn't enough, we then had issue with Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs being told that he was wrong to rent a plane to the tune of TT$.9m. Mind you, this is in the aftermath of AG Ramlogan gallerying heself in Parliament and saying that Gibbs had full authority to sign off on a deal and that Gibbs didn't have to answer to anyone on the matter of how much he spent because he was in total control of his budget. Now, weeks later we are hearing from the Solicitor General that Gibbs was in the wrong.....Am I to assume then that the AG didn't know what he was speaking about? Then what's his purpose? Isn't he supposed to be providing legal advice to the Government? If he doesn't know the laws then how can he do his job? Why are we paying him a salary?
Another nasty thing happened this week too that involved the AG. The former SAUTT Head's reputation was attacked under the cover of Parliament. The AG implied that Brig Peter Joseph ( a man that the govt had to shell out $1m to in legal matters surrounding his dismissal if I'm not mistaken) was incompetent and that SAUTT was malfunctioning. Under the cover of Parliament the AG can say all of these things without providing any evidence. But a high ranking source within SAUTT has accused the AG of lying. What's new with this govt? If is not a lie is a misstep, or a misspoke, or a let's move on, or an I did nothing wrong!
The latest scandal coming from the Prime Minister is three-fold. Apparently the Prime Minister's sister is he travel advisor; and when questioned the Prime Minister, not even acknowledging the flagrant nepotism involved...the same nepotism that she said her government was against on the campaign platform in 2010....defended her actions by saying she needs her sister. Mind you, it's the taxpayers again that have to shoulder the cost of the PM's needs...and Mrs Vidwatie Newton has been costing the country a pretty penny on each international trip she makes with her sister.
Even Kamla's neighbours are complaining about the helicopters, the parties...and her razor wire fence!
The latest issue that should cause concern too is the PM's comment that Executive Presidency is on the table for her government....the same Executive Presidency that she campaigned and railed against when the PNM was in power? Will it be an Executive Presidency a la the US where there is a Congress and a Supreme Court to keep the President in check....or will it be like Guyana's? A system that is malfunctioning and only favours a limited section of the society? Talk to us Prime Minister dearest? Are we also switching to proportional representation? Is your government going to make all of these changes under cover of night and then inform the country?
Another issue that also remains out of the spotlight but is a burning issue is the matter of Tobago and Internal Self Government....the Central Govt is interfering....they've issued a greenpaper on the matter that raises questions about who qualifies as Tobagonian and what qualifies as the land mass that is Tobago...this greenpaper, spearheaded by Attorney General Ramlogan (why does his name keep cropping up????) has implications for Tobagonians, their land and their self-governance....the Pantomime watching how this issue panning out.
In the midst of all of these issues the world celebrated International Women's Day....I thought of Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, Norma Greaves and most of the women we have in Parliament on both the government and opposition sides and considered a sex change....then I called my mother...and all was right with the world again.
This was a tough week to be Trinbagonian. The govt continues to be glib, corrupt and uncaring. The light at the end of the tunnel seems to get more and more distant simply because De Vice Cyah Done!