You never know
Reflections by Suzanne Mills Friday, May 24 2013
Like Dr Roodal Moonilal, when I read the wording of the no confidence motion filed by Dr Keith Rowley I was quite surprised. This was serious business. You had to have solid facts to bring a no confidence motion that states that by a series of actions, the UNC-led Government of Trinidad and Tobago under the leadership of the Prime Minister, has attacked and conspired to undermine key institutions of State, namely: the Judiciary, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the parliamentary Opposition; and the media.
What were the series of actions committed by the PP I wondered. When had this government attempted to undermine or attack the Judiciary, the DPP? Where was the proof? I concluded that I was out of the loop and that the Leader of the Opposition was going to argue a sober case, bring hard evidence to Parliament to back up the serious accusations he was making in his motion. Little did I suspect that something of great consequence as a no confidence motion would be based not on the actions of the PP, but on a stack of unauthenticated emails from persons unknown and probably possessing an agenda, emails which could easily have been concocted, and given the language of the mail and its factual inconsistencies, probably were.
Anyone can invent a dialogue of events that have occurred after they have occurred, using information in the public domain, type it up as emails, cut and paste and make a document look valid. This sounds like the sort of document Rowley brought to the House. Some of the dates on the emails are wrong and thus far there is no explanation of this discrepancy from the Opposition. The email address firstname.lastname@example.org is non-functioning, thus how could emails be sent from or received by that account?
We also know how easy it is for our email accounts to be hacked. About a year ago, I awoke one morning to an email in my inbox from a pal warning me that my Hotmail account might have been breached by a virus, as suspicious emails were being sent out from my account to him. I checked my sent items section, and sure enough, there lay emails I had sent to everyone on my contact list while I was sleeping. I felt embarrassed and I started writing apologies to some of my friends. One wrote back immediately, “Don’t worry we get these emails from you all the time.”
Dr Rowley says he took the email document to former President George Maxwell who acted correctly and passed it on to the Integrity Commission for its authentication. But why take it to the President? His role is not to investigate the contents or origin of emails that allege a conspiracy to commit criminal acts. Why not send it to the Integrity Commission himself or take the matter to the police? None of Dr Rowley’s actions make sense, not unless he was trying to extract the maximum political mileage from these emails.
The Integrity Commission taking too long with its probe, a new commission yet to be sworn in, Dr Rowley opted to take matters into his own hands. The unverified emails became the basis of a substantive motion. A by election and a local election is upon us. What better moment to strike a blow, buss a mark, particularly during the week of the PP’s third anniversary celebrations. True or false, he knew that if you throw enough mud some will stick. To Dr Rowley’s surprise quite a lot of the mud has stuck to him. The informal polls show that the majority of people do not believe the emails are authentic. He failed to make his case.
This debate started off as a fiery no confidence motion based on emails that were purportedly true — Dr Rowley said he had sat on them for six months so he could have them verified. By Wednesday Dr Rowley had retreated and was calling for an independent investigation into the emails, as if he were uncertain of their credibility, saying he was no detective. The goal posts were quickly shifted when Dr Rowley realised he was lacking the people´s support for his “bombshell” and when he saw that the PP and the public had picked up on the discrepancies in the emails.
As he wound up his contribution the Opposition Leader looked like a man defeated, as if he expected the population to have been outraged, to have accepted the emails as gospel and to have believed the government capable of high crimes. Remember he kept saying before the debate that the numbers in parliament were irrelevant. His focus was on the numbers outside the House, that is to say, the citizenry.
But we live in times when people are computer savvy. Any of us could be victims of hackers and mischief makers. Many of us have. I’ve noticed that those asked for their opinion on these emails are measuring their words, noting that they really cannot come to any conclusion unless the emails are authenticated. And that’s because we don’t have to be IT experts to know in our heart of hearts that anyone can impersonate us online and though the content of an email coincides with events of the day, we recognise that backdated fake mail built on elements of truth can be the easy invention of a cunning conspirator.