Tuesday, April 23, 2024

‘Burden’ of Jack in Trinidad politics


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AUSTIN “JACK” WARNER, who on Monday felt compelled to quit as Trinidad and Tobago’s minister of national security, following publication of the scathing findings from a CONCACAF–authorized probe into gross financial fraud, is now locked in a shared political “burden” with the government of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
He has acquired a reputation as the kind of politician one could either easily admire or strongly dislike.
Some think of him, unflatteringly, as an enigma in a riddle. It’s difficult to be neutral about Warner.
Except, perhaps, you happen to be among his quite substantial political supporters – beyond his own Chaguanas West parliamentary constituency.
As a primary architect – with money and hard work – the flamboyant Warner was to help make a reality in May 2010 of the People’s Partnership government. He was to rapidly emerge as Persad-Bissessar’s most high-profile and controversial cabinet minister.
Always ready to passionately dismiss political and media critics, his own apparent arrogance came to rob him of the capacity to make a distinction between objective reporting and perceived media abuses – even if rantings of political opponents could be ignored or rationalized.  
As subsequent developments were to establish, and with recurring significant investigative journalism  encouraged by the Trinidad Express – in particular sterling contributions from Camini Marajh, head of the Investigative Desk – Warner’s failure to separate himself from CONCACAF and FIFA, while serving as a high-profile and influential cabinet minister, came to haunt him.
Above all, now have come the stunning revelations in a report submitted by head of CONCACAF’s Integrity Committee, Sir David Simmons, and his colleague Ricardo Urbina, a former United States senator and judge.
The report is laced with very disturbing details about both Warner and his long-time associate, the American former general secretary of CONCACAF, Chuck Blazer.
I do not know Urbina, but am quite familiar with Sir David. He is known to have a stout reputation as former Minister of Home Affairs and Attorney General of Barbados and, subsequently, as the country’s Chief Justice who was also involved in pre-inauguration work for functioning of the Caribbean Court of Justice.
The CONCACAF report was hastily dismissed by Warner as “baseless and malicious”, following its presentation last week at a meeting in Panama.
But a few days later, after she had also read it, Persad-Bissessar was to separately receive two resignations from Warner – first as minister of national security, the other as chairman of the United National Congress (UNC), the party she leads and which is the  dominant partner of her coalition government.
In a bitter editorial response to the findings of the CONCACAF probe team, the Jamaica Gleaner on Tuesday declared: “For decades, wherever he has stood, especially with regard to football, Austin ‘Jack’ Warner left a stench   of the type most people associate with corruption. That, of course, has never been proven where such things are determined – in courts of law . . . .”   
The Express, on the other hand, was to editorially discuss the implications of the CONCACAF findings for Warner and the Partnership government, the future of which, it feels, now “hangs in the balance”.
For her part, the prime minister chose to make clear that while accepting Warner’s resignation, “after careful scrutiny of all the facts”, and also that of his position as UNC chairman, “he remains a Member of Parliament for Chaguanas West, a position I cannot take from him”.
Well, for a start, Warner is expected to be in his usual fighting mood to defend himself when parliament meets tomorrow to debate an outstanding “no-confidence” motion against him as earlier tabled by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, of the People’s National Movement.
Rival placard-bearing political elements are expected to be on show outside parliament during the debate.
In contrast to the strident criticisms levelled against him since the disclosure of the CONCACAF “corruption” report, there has come a significant response to the resignation of Mr Warner as minister of national security from Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams.
Praising Warner for “changing the culture of the Police Service” during his ten months he served as minister of national security, Commissioner Williams said that he was “an exceptional minister” by his work ethic to get things done.
However, among MPs and cabinet ministers of the Congress of People’s wing of Persad-Bissessar’s coalition government, there are those who would be quietly, if not openly, happy to see the back of  “Jack”.
Tomorrow’s vote on Rowley’s no-confidence motion should provide a good guide on what to expect regarding the future of Persad-Bissessar’s administration.
From what’s known at present of the UNC’s very dominant control in the 41-member parliament, it is quite doubtful that the embarrassment for government and country, resulting from the specific documented cases of Warner’s claimed “bobol” (Trinidadians’ version of corruption), holds any real danger for survival of the UNC-led administration in Port-of-Spain.


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