There is an enduring lawyer’s joke about an attorney who was once seen walking along a busy street, bending occasionally to pick up empty glass bottles which he then packed into an empty crate. When asked by a passerby as to the objective of his peculiar pursuit, the lawyer said confidently, “I am trying to build a case”. I was somehow reminded of this amusing narrative when the news broke of the arrests of a former Attorney General and Opposition Senator, but the jocular effect soon gave way to what from all appearances seemed a carefully timed attack on the political jugular.
Let’s face it, from the word go, soon after the ceremonial oaths of office were sworn to, the PNM government made it clear that any and everything done by its predecessor would be inspected, investigated, contested, petitioned, arraigned and litigated. They made it known with crystalline clarity that every prior governmental act and Minister would be probed, even if he wore a robe. The obvious post-election manifesto theme was “to go after them”. And in the several months and years that followed, a nation witnessed a government that ruled by predicating every single inner fault, blunder and mistake as being an inheritance of the administration before. A government that perhaps felt that its own security of tenure in political office would be bolstered by “following the money” instead of following and meeting the needs of the people.
So, for the better part of its rule so far, the motto of this government has simply been, “seek and find, discover the crime and let them do the time”. Indeed, the present AG by his own admission suggested that the case against his predecessor was in the making for several years. There was an admission as well that this was an investigation that spanned three years and which engaged the unprecedented employ of local and international experts in the fields of forensics, law, banking and accounting. After all, this was no small case being built. And to strengthen the case, laws had to fit the crime or at the very least prescribe a remedy for it. So legislative reform with unparalleled urgency had to come. No wonder in the last couple months this government has pushed to pass laws relevant to unexplained wealth, laws to amend proceeds of crime and whistleblower legislation.
But in the years that this case was being built, there were other cases, many not requiring as much “evidential drilling”, that were left bare despite public outcry as to its suspicious state of emptiness. And in three years, while the present AG was building his case against the former AG, no one was building cases to fix the multiplicity of grave and serious issues facing the land. Quite simply, there was no case being built to uplift the people of Trinidad and Tobago. And so whilst cases were being distilled, discontent brewed. Crime, inflation and unemployment rates were rocketing skywards and thousands were without access to water in their taps, but no strong case was being made to propel workable strategies to combat unprecedented violence or to engage economic recovery or to provide citizens with a ready supply of drinking water even if it were to be bottled water in a case.
All governments should be complimented when it seeks to enforce the rule of law. But that enforcement must not only be fair and dispassionate, it must appear to be fair and free from passionate political views.
So build your case Mr. Attorney General. Build all of them. And while you are at it, encourage the ministry of education to build some schools, persuade the minister of public utilities to build some new reservoirs for water, build a formula to make the nation safer and build plans to create jobs and for economic recovery. Only then would you have built a case for Trinidad and Tobago.