By Andre Bagoo Sunday, May 26 2013.
BY THE LAST day of the debate, even Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley had to admit that his motion of no-confidence against the Government was no longer about the Government but, rather, himself.
“For the last day and a half, my conduct has become the subject of the debate,” an exasperated Rowley told MPs at the International Waterfront Centre, Wrightson Road on Wednesday afternoon. Seventy-two hours earlier, Rowley had told the nation he got documents – purportedly emails – which suggested a conspiracy to murder a journalist, to pervert the course of justice and to illegally tap the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Rowley said he had these documents for six months. But within minutes, his story began to fall apart.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan pointed out the email address called out as his was wrong; Sports Minister Anil Roberts noted one email address was firstname.lastname@example.org, suggesting a con job.
Within 24 hours, Rowley’s political sobriquet of “Rottweiler” was being rivaled by new terms. On Tuesday, Moonilal pulled out a hard hat, gloves and safety glasses in the chamber and called Rowley a “fabricator”.
“There are such glaring inconsistencies, I don’t know where to begin. But I have to begin!” Moonilal said of the purported email trail produced by Rowley. The MP said the sequence of the purported email’s subject, sender and recipient was unusual; the address email@example.com was wrong; the Google Mail or Gmail address purported to be the Attorney General’s was not a possible email address since all Gmail addresses must start with at least six characters, not four; the email addresses seemed to change mid-trail; dates and days were wrong in some instances; the same date, in one instance, appeared to relate to two different days; the language used was not characteristic; and the detail about the US Embassy official Rowley named did not match since he only arrived after the dates of the email.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who had referred the matter to the Police Service two days before, called Rowley “a great deceiver”; “a joker”. She noted he said he had 31 emails, but in fact there were 32. She also noted Rowley called out emails that were not on the papers he circulated in Parliament. On 18 instances, Rowley read out an email that did not correspond to the written text he gave MPs.
In wrapping up his motion, Rowley, with the tables turned against him, went on the defensive.
“I do not act recklessly,” he declared. “I did not act irresponsibly. I did not want to spread rumour and gossip. I did not share it with my colleagues because I did not want it to leak. I have come under attack for daring to do my duty in the only place where privilege exists so that matters like these can be raised. I saw certain elements of corroboration in the emails.” Yet, Rowley stands accused of doing the opposite: of not acting responsibly, of spreading mud knowing some might stick regardless of truth and of abusing Parliament.
Rowley seemed to admit to conducting checks on the documents, checks which did not apparently pick up the basic problems identified throughout the ensuing debate.
“My first reaction on receiving the emails was to check to be sure that it was not frivolous. One of the things I did was to determine whether, in fact, those emails were used by those officers. The bulk were used. I took that to mean that there was something that should not be thrown into the dustbin.” Many disagreed with this assessment. “I am not an investigator,” Rowley protested. “It is not my responsibility to go beyond a prima facie,” he added, using technical legal language which means “first instance case”. He provided more explanations to some of the discrepancies in the emails (saying “.con” was a file extension type, though the relation to this and Gmail addresses was not clear); and changed aspects of the story, retracting the particular US Embassy official he had called out, charge d’affaires Thomas Smitham.
But then Rowley and the PNM MPs ran out on their own motion on Wednesday night, leaving no-one to vote in favour of it, provoking derision from Government Mps.
“Don’t come back!” cried the Tabaquite MP. Rowley was referred by Speaker Wade Mark to the Privilege Committee where he faces sanctions ranging from being made to apologise to expulsion.
On Thursday, Rowley, apparently now fully convinced of the authenticity of the emails, told a rally at San Juan, “I prefer to be in jail in Golden Grove or Frederick Street than in Parliament with the criminals.” By Friday, Persad-Bissessar, smelling blood, continued to heap pressure. “He was not man enough to stay in Parliament!” Persad-Bissessar told a crowd at the PP Government’s third year anniversary celebrations at Mid Centre Mall, Chaguanas. “His motion has backfired.”
But apart from the questions around the purported emails, the wording of the motion itself was a risk which also appeared to have back-fired.
The motion alleged the “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.” The only problem was, the PNM record on the Judiciary was an easy target.
Thus, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, on Monday raised the ghost of the Sharma affair, which saw high intrigue involving former Prime Minister Patrick Manning and former Attorney General John Jeremie the former Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls. He referred to documents which chronicled attempts by Jeremie and at a meeting with McNicolls and former CL Financial boss Michael Fifi to “clean up this mess” in relation to a series of land transactions involving McNicolls, the presiding magistrate in a trial against former UNC leader Basdeo Panday.
“I came here prepared to respond to something that would lay a foundation for a Motion of this kind because this is a very serious procedure,” Ramlogan said. “It is the ultimate sanction that the Parliament gives a Motion of No Confidence and it must therefore be rooted properly. It must be rooted in clear, compelling and cogent factual information by way of evidence to substantiate the allegations that are made, that formed the factual matrix of the Motion.” He continued, “But when I listened to my learned friend from Diego Martin West, I wondered if he just came out of Movie Towne and saw Star Trek in the darkness because he was going beyond the frontier. I mean, this is patently absurd! It is ridiculous in the extreme!”
On the media, he noted Manning had many run-ins with the media. But the bulk of his contribution focused on the Judiciary.
Ramlogan said, “There has been no allegation by the Judiciary, emanating from the Judiciary or the DPP about an attack upon the officers from the Government.” Instead, all that was clear was the PNM’s history of run-ins with the Judiciary.
“You see, Mr Speaker, not only did they keep the office of DPP in a state of flux and vacillation; they appointed no Integrity Commission,” Ramlogan said. “They appointed no confirmed DPP. They appointed no confirmed Commissioner of Police.
They appointed no Police Complaints Authority. They appointed no Firearms Appeal Board for four years. They appointed no Solicitor General. They appointed no Chief Parliamentary Counsel,” Ramlogan said. “Mr Speaker, what they did was to consistently and systematically undermine the various institutions provided for in the Constitution in the most vile and reprehensible manner.”
He continued, “In Glen Ashby’s case they executed a man in cold blood; the State sponsored execution while the man had his matter pending before the Privy Council; a blot on the administration of justice that even today haunts us when we go to the international law conferences and people refer to us as the Glen Ashby country.” Ramlogan referred to cases where the PNM openly accused judges of being political.
“Mr Speaker, whenever the PNM lost a case in court they had a habit of attacking the Judiciary. When Feroza Ramjohn a mere public servant—when I fought her case and we won the then Minister and Leader of Government Business in 2007 said the judge, Justice Amerika Tewarie was a UNC judge,” Ramlogan said.
The Attorney General even went as far back as the 1964 Patrick Solomon case where the then Minister of Home Affairs (the portfolio relating to National Security) walked into a police station and charges in relation to an in-law were dropped.
On Wednesday, Labour Minister Errol Mc Leod also referred to the Solomon case. He further recalled the 1978 pilots strike, which saw George Chambers ordered by then PNM Prime Minister Eric Williams to read out sensitive medical information about a pilot at the centre of an industrial dispute. He also cited scandals over the years such as those involving Johnny O’Halloran.
“Our history is short and so we must look back at these events if we are to understand what we are seeing today,” Mc Leod said.
The Government Whip Moonial on Tuesday attacked the PNM for what he termed its “dirty old past” of using tricks to discredit its enemies. He cited the 1981 circulation of a letter to discredit Karl Hudson-Phillips among members of the Shouter Baptist community after he fell out of favour with former PNM political leader Dr Eric Williams. It was almost as though the motion, as formulated by Rowley, was an open invitation for the PNM’s past history to be resurrected. It was an invitation Government MPs accepted readily, as the Opposition Leader sought to divert attention onto his tale of high-tech modern email intrigue.
“All that has changed is that some people get iPad,” Moonilal wryly said.