Ralph Maraj

political analysts Ralph Maraj 

AN Express investigation into a police probe has revealed that Minister Camille Robinson-Regis went to State bank First Citizens with $143,800 in cash.

Some of the money was used to meet credit card and mortgage obligations, while almost $93,000 was deposited into her savings account. This deposit was above the $90,000 threshold requiring the depositor to fill out a legally-binding source of funds declaration, in which she stated the cash was from a bank account at Republic Bank. According to the police investigations, Robinson-Regis did not withdraw $143,800 from Republic Bank.

The critical question is where did that money come from? The Express says “Mrs Robinson-Regis’s financial affairs are a matter of valid public interest, given the interplay between political financing and Government influence.” But when Kirk Waithe of Fixin T&T, posed the question to the Prime Minister, Rowley angrily dismissed Waithe “as a self-promoting nuisance.”

And when the persistent Waithe told Rowley politicians must “put their country first”, the Prime Minister got more vitriolic, calling Waithe, “a damn hypocrite”. Amazing! Is this democracy or autocracy? Given his behaviour, do not expect any investigation or disciplinary action from this Prime Minister. More than anything else, this demonstrates the extent of the rot.

Two years ago, in assessing this cabinet, I wrote: “The rot spreads when there is no guiding centre. Without a high purpose, a central motivating force, emptiness pervades life and work. The fundamental problem with this administration is no central, compelling vision. No centre. No reference point.”

It is therefore not surprising that for three years this Cabinet digested the implausible claim that Robinson-Regis had withdrawn $143,800 in cash from one bank, possibly stuffed the money into her handbag and walked into another bank to conduct transactions instead of using a manager’s cheque or a wire transfer. Did these Cabinet ministers have any doubts about the truthfulness of their colleague, right hand of the Prime Minister and Leader of Government business in Parliament? For three years, did they ask any questions around the Cabinet table, in the tea room or at the weekly post-Cabinet lunch? Did not a single ministerial mouse roar?

And how did the mice look upon an Attorney General, defender of the law and the Constitution, who for three years claimed to be satisfied with the transaction but who, in spite of calls from Fixin T&T, yours truly and others, provided no verifiable evidence that it actually took place? And most disturbing of all, how have these Government ministers, for three years, viewed their boss, the nation’s Prime Minister, always angry and self-righteous, who claimed to be satisfied with the minister’s explanation? Did they continue to respect him? Or are their pay, perks and prestige their predominant concerns while posing as protector of the people’s interest?

And will there be Cabinet concerns now that the truth is known? Will anybody speak up? Shouldn’t Minister Robinson-Regis and AG Al-Rawi be asked to publicly release the Republic Bank letter which the AG claims exonerates his colleague? Al-Rawi had said then: “I am telling you what I saw with my own eyes. I even called Republic Bank and spoke with the person who certified the letter to make sure they were genuine, and they confirmed that it was.” But the Express claims to have facts that “contradict that position”. Was Al-Rawi misled? Shouldn’t the Prime Minister want to clear doubts involving two senior cabinet members? And what about the People’s National Movement, which claims “morality in public affairs”. Robinson-Regis is chairperson of their Women’s League. Will they support publication of the Republic Bank letter?

This administration has demonstrated no strong commitment to transparency and accountability. Over $250 billion would have been spent in this term and to this date, the nation has no protection through procurement legislation, a critical cure for this corruption-infested country and which the PNM piously promised on the campaign trail. They also have not kept their promise of campaign finance legislation, leaving the country exposed to the predations of political investors. Many suspect this is deliberate.

So, the rot abounds, as all can see. The Cabinet took a decision to rent a property owned by the AG and his wife which will earn them over $23 million in three years without full disclosure by Faris Al-Rawi, the Cabinet Note of February 12, 2019 not listing the shareholders of the property, said Dr Emir Crowne in the Newsday! And apparently approved by the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and the National Security Minister, $150,000 of public funds has been used as hush money to protect a former minister in a sexual harassment case brought by his personal secretary. We have had “crookedness” in procurement for vessels on the seabridge; a Cabinet minister now before the courts on corruption charges; and another Cabinet minister reportedly ordered by the New York Supreme Court to pay back over US$100,000 to a senior citizen and return the deed to the citizen’s multimillion-dollar condo. Then there was the “Petrotrin sin”, closing down the refinery against the advice of the then-chairman and board as well as three independent and separate reports.

And that’s not all. The rot goes deep.

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