The timing of the release of a document detailing “evidence” gathered from police investigations into matters involving Opposition politicians should be of concern to all citizens regardless of political affiliation.
One does not have to be cynical to be suspicious about the fact that supposedly damning information contained in a police-compiled “status report” has been placed in the public domain on the eve of a general election and with the campaign in full swing.
It has been four years since police began investigating contracts awarded by the State-owned Estate Management and Business Development Company (EMBD) and under the LifeSport programme during the Kamla Persad-Bissessar 2010-2015 administration.
The fact that police reports on both should now be released anonymously to the public with the elections just three weeks away raises disturbing questions about motive. If the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau has compiled a case which it believes can stand up in court, why haven’t the persons allegedly involved been arrested and charged under the law instead of being tried by public opinion?
We raise these concerns as the newspaper that broke major stories about contract awards at EMBD and under the LifeSport programme. In contrast to the investigative journalism that produced those reports, the police “status report” gives cause for concern about the identity and agenda of those who chose to release such information during an election campaign. Releasing such “evidence” not only risks damaging the reputation and political chances of individuals whose names have been associated with both companies, but the publicity also risks undermining the criminal case that may be brought against them. This is why, although this newspaper received the “status report”, we exercised great care in reporting their details.
The fact that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley simultaneously made platform references to people in the United National Congress having serious criminal questions to answer and that a “significant portion of police work today is examining the misconduct of persons who served in the Cabinet of T&T” also raises eyebrows. Did he, too, receive the “status report” on the EMBD and LifeSport corruption investigation? If so, from whom and why?
The last thing any national leader should wish to do is to engender public suspicion about possible collusion between the government and the police. Dr Rowley is entitled to lambaste the UNC for contract awards by EMBD and under LifeSport, but he should keep out of the police investigation and the police should keep clear of doing anything that would raise the perception of it having a political agenda.
The line between politics and policing is one that Trinidad and Tobago would cross at its peril. The fact that we have a Police Commissioner with a political past, and a possible political future that cannot be ruled out, places the Police Service under more scrutiny than usual. Public perception in this case may be further influenced by the fact that, until recently, the ACIB has been operating within the Office of the Attorney General, which is a political office.
Under these circumstances we urge all sides to tread very carefully to ensure that the Police Service is not only politically neutral but is seen to be so.