Sunday 1st May, 2005

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Bribery matter not put to rest

Trinidad and Tobago politics took an unusually bizarre turn on Friday as two Cabinet Ministers called the media to deny allegations that they took bribes and to present an affidavit by their accuser repudiating his charges.

In a handwritten letter to Prime Minister Patrick Manning, first reported

in the Sunday Guardian

two weeks ago, Dansam Dhansook said he had paid bribes to Eric Williams and Franklin Khan, Ministers of Energy and of Works and Transport respectively.

Mr Dhansook, a PNM councillor, was to be the main attraction at another media event also on Friday, staged by an advertising agency, at which he had been scripted to withdraw his bribery accusations.

He did not show up. The dramatic high point at which, with cameras rolling, he would confess his sin of bearing false witness against party comrades and friends (and take questions), fell flat.

The country was left with Mr Dhansook’s July 2004 affidavit statement, “I hereby unequivocally withdraw each and every such allegation.”

His letter had apparently been written five months before. Kamla Persad-Bissessar read the letter in Parliament, and the UNC has since demanded both ministers resign and that Mr Dhansook receive police protection.

Will the volatile Mr Dhansook also denounce his affidavit sworn nine months ago?

This intriguing question remains, even as his original letter to the Prime Minister, with copies of cheques to Mr Khan enclosed, remains in play. Mr Manning said he had referred it to the Integrity Commission.

This response is controversial. Sending it to the Integrity Commission is better than doing nothing. Doubt remains, however, about that body’s power and capacity to do what the Prime Minister asked of it.

Common-sense understanding of bribe-taking as criminal wrongdoing would lead the public to expect investigators properly endowed with police powers and skills to be put on the case. As far as is known, this has not happened.

Thus, the matter has not been put to rest, despite the denials in Parliament by Mr Williams and later by both ministers.

Mr Dhansook’s failure to oblige made a fiasco of the supporting event planned for the Crowne Plaza. The hope was that the accuser would recant, declare that his doing so was voluntary, apologise for the trouble his lie caused and, crucially, say why he did it.

In short, the hope was he would in person endorse and amplify the July 2004 affidavit produced on Friday in the ministers’ defence.

The affidavit says Mr Dhansook had made his earlier claim to have bribed Mr Khan with $120,000 and Mr Williams with $75,000 because he “became totally frustrated at the unwillingness of Minister Khan to help.”

Mr Khan confirms that Mr Dhansook and he had long been friends and partners in business, though the former evidently enjoyed better success. Yes, Mr Khan had received money from Mr Dhansook, but the funds represented repayment of a loan, which had been properly reported as such to the Integrity Commission.

Though he is chairman of the PNM and among the highest-profile Cabinet Ministers, the Government and the ruling party have not been conspicuously at his side at this moment of public discomfort. Supporters demonstrating outside the Red House on Friday were defending only Mr Williams.

Still, Mr Khan is not without advantages as he seeks to protect himself from political and other damage spilling over from his private business involvements before he became a minister.

It could have been far worse. One former minister, Brian Kuei Tung, has been facing a multitude of criminal charges arising from his own pre-Government business dealings.

©2004-2005 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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