It is bad enough that former social development minister Manohar Ramsaran and the Panday administration failed to act on the dynamite findings of the Sabga Task Force report into children’s homes and institutions back in 1997. But for Ramsaran to now defend his failure 25 years later on the grounds that his interest “was not personal or to lock up anybody” since it’s not his “character to be malicious” marks him out as having been completely unfit for the job. In what universe, we wonder, is the wilful decision to condemn children to abuse and torture not malicious?
The dangerous and antediluvian thinking demonstrated by Ramsaran has condemned generations of children in State care to horrific physical and psychological abuse and torture. Had the Panday administration acted on the Sabga report with the urgency required, the scourge of physical and sexual abuse existing in children’s homes today would have been eradicated, if not completely then substantially.
Instead, the government buried it in a massive State cover-up for which Ramsaran, then-PM Basdeo Panday, then-attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and the rest of the cabinet including current Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the then-legal affairs minister, must now account.
Until she explains her own inaction in 1997, Mrs Persad-Bissessar will lack the moral authority to castigate the Rowley government for its handling of the recent Justice Judith Jones report into children’s homes while her demand for justice for today’s abused children will ring hollow and reek of political opportunism.
Ramsaran’s comments suggest that the Panday government was less worried about the children and more concerned with protecting their alleged abusers among who were purportedly upstanding individuals including Catholic nuns, high-profile businessmen and staff. According to the Sunday Express exclusive report, when the Panday government was faced with the explosive findings of the Sabga report it opted against laying the report in Parliament and instructed all Task Force members to destroy their copies, effectively shutting down the investigative initiative. As legal adviser to the Panday cabinet in 1997, attorney Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj also owes the country an explanation for this decision.
It is possible that the government was influenced by the example of the Robinson administration’s handling of the Scott Drug Report a decade before which contained shocking allegations against high-profile attorneys, big businessmen and high public officials. Although it triggered a national frenzy when laid in Parliament under the protection of parliamentary privilege, its public release sealed its fate as a prosecution dud on the grounds of being prejudicial to all concerned.
While this might explain the decision not to take an unredacted report straight to Parliament it does not explain the failure to send the Sabga report to the police for investigation while immediately rescuing the children from the State-funded snake-pit of abuse and torture.
We may never know what impact that seminal failure had on the children of 1997 and others who have since followed them into State care. But they are all owed an apology as a start to restitution.