Monday, April 29, 2013
About seven or eight hundred years ago there was a character called Robin of Locksley who some how has morphed into a legend known as Robin Hood. According to the legend, Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor. He is supposed to have stood up to the injustices that existed under the rule of the Norman or Norman leaning Prince John, whose brother King Richard had been captured somewhere in France on his way back from the crusades and was being held for a ransom which his brother (Prince John) was reluctant to pay. As a result, the English peasantry as well as the English nobility was groaning under the tyranny of Prince John and his Norman cohorts.
Whether the legend is true or not it has certainly captured the imagination of the public down through the centuries. Just about everybody knows the story of Robin Hood and he is garlanded with accolades and regarded as a genuine hero who stood up against tyranny and fought for the little man.
But what if we could somehow go back in a time machine to the time of Robin Hood and sort out and separate for ourselves fact from fiction? I am almost certain that we would find that Robin Hood was not quite the character that history and legend has made him out to be. It is highly likely that we would find that the "establishment" of the period would regard Mr. Hood as an out and out criminal who deserved to be hanged at dawn ... if they could only catch him. And if there were newspapers around then (and there weren't) the press would almost universally be condemning Robin. You could almost imagine a typical headline: 'HOOD STRIKES AGAIN! BOLD CRIMINAL AND GANG ROBS SHERRIFF OF NOTTINGHAM'S NIECE IN DARING HOLD-UP. NOBLES RENEW CALL FOR LAW AND ORDER AND OFFER A REWARD FOR CAPTURE OF CRIMINAL AND HIS GANG".
I am also certain that Mr. Hood would not have given away everything that he stole but would have kept a (very) large proportion of the proceeds of his activities for his own personal benefit. The altruism that the legend attributes to him is normally found only amongst the saints and holy people who from time to time have walked amongst us.
In other words, assuming (but certainly not accepting) that every thing that his critics and detractors say about Jack Warner is true, then except for the names and a few other changes his story and that of Robin Hood is a very similar one. And one can understand why he (Mr. Warner) is so popular ... for the same reasons that Robin Hood was popular almost a millenia ago.
But there are some critical differences. And the biggest difference is that in our modern society it is becoming more and more difficult to get away with criminal activity if (and only if) the State wants to get you. Mr. Warner made a brilliant political move last week when he resigned his seat and announced that he would seek re-election. He put everybody on their backfeet. The Prime Minister was faced with a very real problem: if she allowed him to run as a UNC candidate and he won (which he would) then she would have a potential rival for leadership of the Party ... something that no leader can tolerate. If she sought to block him by preventing him from getting through the screening process and he ran and won as an independent then her leadership would probably be fatally wounded. Talk about 'ouch'!
The PNM also would be badly hurt. Mr. Warner could taunt them with their "voice of the people is the voice of God" mantra whenever they hurled any insults or accusations against him. Mr. Warner would easily have become the most powerful politician in Trinidad & Tobago.
But late last week, somebody in the police force threw something into the mix that could de-rail the ex-National Security Minister severely. Somebody in the police caused a file to be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions relating to the possible breach of the Customs Act in what might loosely be called the Bim Hammam affair with the paper bags of US$40,000 in cash. Now, if the DPP decides to charge Mr. Warner with this matter it could effectively de-rail Mr. Warner's hopes of running for re-election as the UNC's candidate for Chaguanas West as the UNC's rules prevent it from endorsing any person as a candidate who is on an indictable charge before the courts of this land. Kamla gets off the hook as she would be prevented from allowing Warner's candidacy to go forward.
Mr. Warner would then be deprived of accusing the Prime Minister (or anybody else) from conspiring to de-rail him and keep him out. In those circumstances the UNC faithful would find it difficult to support him. In other words, he could actually lose the by-election. That would cause a big headache to go away for both the UNC as well as the PNM.
Ahhh! Life in the tropics! Never a dull moment! We shall have to wait and see what happens next, but you can be certain that this story has more twists and turns than a novella. The only thing that we can be certain about is that it ain't over yet! Not by a long shot!
Posted by Robin Montano at 11:15 AM
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
So Jack Warner has gone. Frankly, I don't really see that he had a choice. While I agree that the newspaper articles were serious, I also agreed with the Prime Minister's 'wait and see' attitude. You don't fire somebody because of newspaper allegations ... especially when the allegations are coming from a biased source. But the ball game changes when the allegations come from an investigating committee such as that headed by Sir David Simmons for FIFA and CONCACAF.
Mr. Warner will have to deal with these allegations now. It is not good enough to say that he will deal with them at some future date. It is absolutely necessary that he clears his name as soon as possible. If he doesn't then he will find himself politically as dead as the dodo bird, and probably in some serious legal trouble, if he is not already.
Of course, he could take a leaf out of Dr. Keith Rowley's notebook on how to deal with seemingly damning and irrefutable allegations. You will recall that Dr. Rowley, while a Minister in the Manning Regime, was associated with a land development project in Tobago known as Landate. The project was in his wife's name but everybody believed that he was the driving force behind it. In any case, the project was going on at the same time that the Scarborough General Hospital was being constructed by a very, very large local construction company called NH International which is owned by Dr. Rowley's good friend, Emile Elias. And here is where the story gets murky.
The company doing the Landate project was a very, very small Tobago based company owned by a chap called Warner (not Jack). This company subcontracted the major portion (something like 99 percent) of the Landate project to NH International. Then NH International started to remove materials and equipment from the Scarborough General Hospital site without either the knowledge or theconsent of the engineer in charge of that project and carry them up to the Landate site.
A commission of enquiry recommended that NH International be investigated by the police with a view to determining whether or not there had been any breaches of the Larceny Act. (In other words and in local parlance, to see if anybody t'ief!) But the police mysteriously could not find the relevant files and the matter has never been investigated. Further, then Prime Minister Patrick Manning never looked into the mysterious disappearance of those files either. (Incidentally, all the police had to do was read the report of the commission of enquiry andlook at the transcripts of the evidence ... and, for the record, I know that they were told where to look because I personally told them! I was involved in the commission of enquiry.)
In any case, the next thing that happened was the the Integrity Commission referred Dr. Rowley to the Director of Public Prosecutions for his involvement in that whole rather sordid affair. Dr. Rowley went to the High Court seeking a stay of the referral on the ground that the Inegrity Commission should have called him in and asked for his side of the story before referring the matter to the DPP. A High Court Judge agreed with Dr. Rowley, the members of the Integrity Commission resigned and the whole matter has come to an abrupt halt. The question of whether or not there has been criminal conduct in this affair either by Dr. Rowley or by NH International or anybody else has never been determined!
I raise this now because what is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander. I heard Senator Al Rawi say on television yesterday that a Judge of the High Court had found Dr. Rowley completely innocent in the Landate affair. That is simply not true. The sad truth is that no investigation was ever done in that matter, either by the police nor by the "ever vigilant and fearless" press. 'Why not' is, of course, the big question. Perhaps the old Jack Warner could ask Keith Rowley how he (Rowley) managed to get that issue to die? Because nowhere have I seen a report that the Simmons Committee interviewed Mr. Warner before issuing their damning and damaging report. If that is so, then can Jack Warner also go to Court and cite Rowley's case as an authority for stopping everything in it's tracks?
Posted by Robin Montano at 10:57 AM
Monday, April 8, 2013
When I first qualified as a lawyer I was taught a great trick in cross examination: put a question to a witness in such a way that no matter how he answered he would effectively admit whatever it was that you were trying to get out of him. A classic example of this type of questioning is: 'are you still beating your wife?' If the witness answers "yes" then, of course, you have him. But if he answers "no" then there is a clear inference that he used to beat her, just that he doesn't do so any more. In other words you will catch him no matter what he answers!
Veteran Express reporter Camini Marajh sent a list containing some 40 questions to Mr. Jack Warner, the Minister of National Security, last week Wednesday. Both the tenor as well as the content of all of the questions lead the reader in absolutely no doubt that the reporter is in possession of certain information that is potentially extremely damaging to the erstwhile National Security Minister. But some of the questions are also "are you still beating your wife" questions. Take, for example, question no. 13:
"Much has been said about your (Warner's) role in facilitating the May 2011 cash-for-vote
affair. Two investigatory hearings, FIFA Ethics Committee and CAS, found "credible
evidence" that directly connects you to the cash. In fact, the undisputed evidence places the
cash in your government office on the afternoon of May 10.. Can you please tell me about
the circumstances leading to the presence of a suitcase full of cash in your old Minister of
Works office in London Street in Port of Spain? Comment also on the view that your
conduct in this matter was an abuse of the public's trust."
Now, just taking this one question as an example, what impression do you get from it? The impression that I get is : (a) That it is an absolute fact that a suitcase full of cash was found in Mr. Warner's office;
(b) That this is not only an absolute fact but it is also undisputed, which means (inter alia) that
Mr. Warner admits this;
(c) That there is a public perception that this was an abuse of the public's trust; and
(d) That the reporter believes that Mr. Warner is a crook of the highest order, just that
she isn't saying this so bluntly.
I am not aware, for example, that Mr. Warner has ever admitted that a bundle of cash was found in his office! Indeed, a question immediately arises as to who found it and what did he do about it? And if he did nothing, then why not? Why didn't he do something? Is this "undisputed fact" really a fact? Next, why should Mr. Warner talk to the reporter if she clearly believes that he is a crook? Is there anything that he can do or say to change her mind which appears to be already made up? The same, or similar comments can be made about the other 39 questions. And I am not here going to deal with the Express pretending that Mr. Warner had not replied to Ms. Marajh. That in itself is yet another example of not being entirely honest or straight forward. At best, it's claim that Mr. Warner did not reply was a half truth ... and half truths are often more dangerous than lies.
Mr. Warner's rather elegant reply to the reporter was in essence: I don't trust you to report accurately or honestly on anything that I might say and as a result I ain't talkin' to you or your newspaper. You all are not honest in your reporting and in any case I don't have to tell you diddleysquat!
Well, in this Mr. Warner is absolutely correct. The Express has been less than honest or straight forward in its reporting on the activities (or non-activities) of various Government Ministers (the "big" news about the non ownership of a Rolls Royce motor car comes to mind) and honestly, if Mr. Warner were my client (and he is NOT) I would have advised him not to answer anything that the Express were to ask for precisely that reason, i.e., that their reporting and commentary is biased and that they will obviously use anything he says to them to hang him.
But, (and it is a big "BUT") the public interest is clearly not being served here at all. The accusations and rumors swirling around Mr. Warner's head are very serious and cannot and ought not to be ignored or pushed aside. We, the public, deserve to have answers to the many, many questions that are swirling around. We need to know whether or not there really is a fire or just some very good smoke making machines. And here is where a free and honest press comes in. It does not help when an accusation is made by someone who is clearly biased. (There are very few divorced men or women, for example, whose ex wives or ex husbands will say that they are great guys or girls, as the case may be. But, the truth is that some of them are! Some of them aren't!). The obvious bias that pervades the pages of both the newspapers, especially the Express, against the government makes any person within the government understandably gun shy of talking to reporters. They never know how their words are going to be twisted. The government is not guilty of trying to muzzle the press or to interfere with its freedom. In any case, the press is free to twist things any way it likes within the boundaries of libel, and to report or not report on anything that it likes. But when it acts in a patently biased manner and consistently twists its reporting in a manner that is essentially dishonest (e.g. the Rolls Royce story) then certainly the victims of the biased reporting are not only within their rights not to speak to the offending media, but would be well advised not to do so.
The obvious war that the media (and the Express in particular) has declared on the government ought to be brought to an early end. From my viewpoint, this war is not doing the country any good at all.
Please do not interpret what I have said here as in any way being a defence of either Jack Warner or the government. It is not meant to be. It is simply an effort to bring things back to the centre. Every government ... every political party ... needs the press to get its message out. Every newspaper needs the politicians in order to get stories to put in its pages in order to sell its papers. The relationship doesn't have to be cordial. In fact, it probably works best when there is a certain slight hostility or distrust. But there does have to be a certain honesty and respect from both sides. And therein lies the problem: the press clearly doesn't respect the government nor has it been honest in its reporting about the government. As a start, perhaps the press could "set the re-set button" and go back to honest reporting. Either that, or come out honestly and admit that it has in fact declared war on the present administration and intends to do all in its power to bring the government down. But we really can't continue like this. It can only lead to trouble ... and we have enough problems on our plate already!
Posted by Robin Montano at 2:10 PM