Lion's legacy one big zero


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Category: Profiles 30 Apr 06


It is unreasonable to expect a baroque political requiem for former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, who was shown the door from local politics last week after he was found guilty of failing to declare a London bank account.


However, one political scientist’s haste to put the nail on the political coffin of the chairman of the United National Congress (even while he served himself, admittedly) into the trash cans of history by stating he was politically “dead” and his “fighting days were over,” was unseemly.


He can be demonised, deified, but not dismissed, because even his enemies will agree with this. “He is larger than life,” not because of his obvious charisma and way with words, but because regardless of his transgressions, the fact remains that Basdeo Panday has given a voice and face to a previously invisible and mute half of this multi-racial population—the East Indian community—spending years agitating for the rights of sugar workers.


It was curious to see Panday’s contribution written off by a fellow columnist who, even while claiming sympathy for the “fallen lion,” managed to simultaneously disingenuously remind us in the process, of thanking him for his first political scoop that Panday “schemed his way around the old guard” to become the “young lion of the sugar union”


Independent thinking


Mr Panday’s utterly disappointing performance during his tenure as Prime Minister is indefensible. It’s true he was large-spirited, did not witch hunt, go after known corrupt PNM officials, made the correct gestures towards inclusion such as a Baptists’ holiday.


But his legacy to the people who voted him in is a big zero.


If there are children in Couva today who have never seen a toothbrush in their lives, if the rural Indo-Trinidadian is among the poorest and least-educated in this country, according to CSO figures, it is partly due to Panday’s neglect.


He let power go to his head. He ostensibly operated his party as a maximum leader, ruthlessly felling opposition, favouring sycophancy over independent thinking.


And Panday is not above the law. He has to pay for that undeclared, puffed-up bank account. Still, two years with hard labour seems unduly harsh, because Panday is the only person to be prosecuted and convicted for breaching the Integrity in Public Life Act.


Why is that?


Under the 1987 act, Members of the House of Representatives, Government Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Permanent Secretaries and Chief Technical Officers were obliged to truthfully declare their assets each year.


How many have?


Can of Worms


Senator Dana Seetahal informs me that in 2000, the Integrity in Public Life Act was widened to include members of the Tobago House of Assembly, municipalities, local government authorities, boards of statutory authorities and state enterprises as well as senators, judges and magistrates.


Seetahal wagers that over 2,000 people fall under the law. Now the can of worms has been opened, the law better be applied equally to everyone who falls under it.


The Integrity Commission has a lot of work to do if it is to convince us Panday is the only man out of over 2,000 people to make a false declaration of his assets.


Historians say history is never the truth, but perception of the truth. The perception among many is that Panday has been singled out for prosecution; that the law is somehow a political arm of the government; that his arrest is politically expedient, since it comes in the year before a general election.


If this perception is false and justice has been done, then the 2,000 or so people falling under the law, including judges, should come under the microscopic gaze of the Integrity Commission.


But will they?


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur