We all know the myth of the Trojan Horse. The metaphor has been used by many to describe the COP since the party’s presence was used to dress the UNC up for the 2010 elections to make the People’s Partnership more attractive and appear as a gift to the nation. The Partnership that would save our politics.
The UNC, for all its posturing about new leadership under Kamla Persad-Bissessar, still carried strong whiffs of the stench of corruption of its last two terms in office that involved events like: Dhanraj Singh going to jail; a lost shipment of rice attributed to then CEO of NFM Vasant Bharath; ghost URP gangs under Works and Transport Minister Sadiq Baksh; PM Basdeo Panday’s London apartment and the $2m in his wife’s bank account; and, of course, the Piarco airport fiasco that saw roughly $500m disappearing in the building of an airport that allegedly cost around $1.2b to build.
The COP became the UNC’s beard. It covered up and distracted (some) from the UNC’s obvious shortcomings. It’s membership featured members who were prominent in noteworthy fields: academia, environmental activism, social activism, gender activism. The list is long, but you get the picture? On paper and at meetings, the COP looked like a party peopled with intellectually and morally sound individuals. People who were capable of distinguishing right from wrong; calling the UNC out on corruption and malfeasance, and generally providing some sort of conscience that seemed sadly lacking in our Parliament.
At the time of the 2010 General Election, the COP had only three visible flaws for me: Ganga Singh of Desalcott fame; Anil Roberts, who I felt was too uncouth to be let out in public; and Anand Ramlogan, a man who had barely begun to sharpen his legal chops, but due to a passionate column in the daily newspaper had built up a fearsome reputation foundered on words and an ever reliable Privy Council.
Within mere months though, the COP began showing its true colors. It’s behavior and real purpose in the Partnership was gradually revealed; and it became clear that COP wasn’t so much a political party, but a cult a la Jim Jones in the forests of Guyana. The party's leadership was happy to follow the dictates of the UNC, and the party's membership was content to hush and maintain the status quo for a place at the trough. Very lofty ideals.
The first clear inkling that the COP was there simply to do the UNC’s bidding, while masquerading as morality in Government was with the appointment of Reshmi Ramlogan to the head of the SIA. Think back and remember a few things. Reshmi was endorsed by John Sandy, a COP member, Anand Ramlogan, a COP member and Prakash Ramadhar, a COP member. Her appointment was signed by acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith who is…you guessed it. A COP member. a dubious appointment dressed up with the endorsement of morally upstanding members of a coalition government. How could we doubt Reshmi’s qualifications with their backing and support?
When the news broke that Reshmi barely had a secondary education and was therefore unqualified and ill-suited for the top security job, Sandy waffled, Ramlogan remained belligerent and Ramadhar denied knowledge of the woman fast than Peter denied Christ.
I point to ReshmiGate because for many it marked the beginning of the government’s host of missteps.
For most citizens, because UNC is by far the largest party in the coalition, we tend to think of it as a UNC government. The COP remains low-key, almost colorless and innocuous, but maintains enough of a presence to lull the public into believing that there is a multi-party coalition, with each member having a separate identity. We are meant to believe that the COP is a party with a vibrant membership, keeping the UNC in check and looking out for the national good.
This COP, with the moral and upstanding membership, has sat in Cabinet and Parliament and kept the UNC in check by supporting:
1. an illegal State of Emergency, even voting for its extension
2. Section 34
3. $10m to tow a truck
4. Hurried amendment of the THA Act
5. Proportional Representation for the Local Government Elections
6. the Pensions Amendment Bill
7. Every oversized super Budget passed in the last four years
8. $400m in funding for LifeSport to give cash to criminals
These are but a few of the items. In short, during the last four years of missteps, corruption and misbehavior in public office, the COP, whilst pretending to practice New Politics, has been successfully serving the UNC’s purpose, without actually serving any of ours.
Because they have remained low key it slips out of the public’s mind that Mary King and Anil Roberts, two ministers that misbehaved in public office belong to the COP.
We forget that the AG who still has questions to answer about Emailgate, the two Landrovers and Prisongate was a member of the COP before switching to the UNC.
We forget that Minister Bhoe Tewarie, who is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the JCC for the multi-billion dollar Invader’s Bay Project is also COP.
And I haven’t forgotten Winston Dookeran, under whose watch numerous foreign policy faux pas have occurred and embassy staff fired because they “looked” PNM. Or Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, whose tenure as Minister of Public Administration has seen severe budget cuts for scholarship funding for Masters and PhD students. This is a government far more comfortable investing hundreds of millions of dollars in criminals, than in real athletes or scholars.
This ability of the COP to fool the electorate into thinking it is a moral and upstanding political entity is one of the reasons a friend of mine calls them the Judas Horse party.
And now we come to the latest fiasco. Last Monday, Kamla Persad-Bissessar placed the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2014 in parliament for a debate that is scheduled for sometime later today. The Bill comes as a result of consultation that Ramadhar, and a committee he chaired, conducted last year. The report was completed in November 2013, and submitted in December of the same year. Since May 2010 the COP had been pushing for the introduction of Proportional Representation as a replacement to First Past the Post. Unsurprisingly, when the COP conducted its survey of what citizens wanted by way of reform, the conclusions drawn were that the electorate wanted PR. After consultations in 6 venues, with audiences numbering only in the scores and sometimes crossing into the hundreds, the COP decided that 1.3m people wanted Proportional Representation. In fact, so convinced was the COP and the government in general that they sought to introduce PR at the local government level.
Lo and behold, in August 2014, the shift is now from Proportional Representation to the Run Off Ballot. A move that is such a fundamental shift away from PR that it almost makes null and avoid any third parties or independent candidates in an election. Did I mention that the COP is a third party? A party that relies on that nebulous floating vote?
The UNC, with the support of the COP, has moved away from reforming the constitution, and now wants to reform how we go about voting for our representatives in a naked attempt at securing power.
By now we all know the story. Kamla announced the Bill and eventually Dr Hodge, a member of the Committee spoke out twice to indicate that Run Off Ballots were not a part of the Report or discussion. Her statements were also supported by another member of the Committee. Dr Hodge, is also a member of the COP…and thus far the only anomaly in the matrix that is COP duplicity. Her willingness this week to stand up and speak out is a refreshing change from a party that has upheld the UNC status quo for the past 4 years.
Unfortunately, the rest of the membership are yet to exhibit the same fortitude as Dr Hodge:
The uproar, outrage and dissent over the Bill has been nothing short of magnificent. And I use the word magnificent because it is refreshing to see a country wake up and demand that its Government stop the madness at once. But this time we will have to do more than talk, because quite frankly there is no one but us to look after us. We have to stop the passage of this Bill. The Opposition alone cannot do it.
The UNC is clearly going to support the Bill, as are the TOP MPs and the NJAC Senators (remember them?). The COP, true to form continues to send mixed messages. Ramadhar, faced with the extinction of his party at the polls, has simply bought a wreath for it. Today at the party’s meeting members were reminded to maintain the status quo and to not embarrass the leadership in any way by showing dissent.
Imagine knowing that the passage of a Bill is likely to destroy your political party’s relevance, and you vote for it any way because you need to save face and not rock the boat? The boat going down and COP members are worried about rocking it?
And that is why I am convinced the party is a cult.
Where else do you find a membership so brainwashed and obedient even in the face of their imminent extinction?
Who willingly drinks the party’s Kool Aid knowing that there is poison in it?
And still members of the party would have us believe that the COP is a valid party and has the country’s best interests at heart?
For me, the COP is the most dangerous entity in the People’s Partnership. The UNC’s colors have been on display from day one when Kamla moved into the Gopauls’ home in St Augustine. A government hellbent on cronyism and nepotism.
But the COP….the COP has fed us a myth. You have Ramadhar on one hand saying the debate goes on and the chairwoman on the next side saying the COP has voted against the debate. What does it mean? No one knows.
But while the country looks on confused, rest assured that the COP and many of its morally upstanding members covered in gravy from eyebrow to elbow.
De Vice Cyah Done
If you want to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago will always be a space that welcomes as many parties and candidates as possible to the electoral process reject this Bill. There is no Ifs, Ands or Buts about its impact on our democracy.