Saturday 29th July, 2006

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Entrapment and 103?

In the role of host for Tuesday’s awards ceremony for former Soca Warriors coach Leo Beenhakker, it appeared that President George Maxwell Richards was completely focused on toasting the Dutchman and his work with the national team.

But an hour after the festivities, as Richards walked away to his office with his military escort, his head bowed and appearing deep in thought, he seemed burdened with some matter much larger than football achievements.

Hours later it was revealed that, even as Richards smoothly conducted the necessary honours for Beenhakker, he must have also been balancing his plans to address the nation later that night on the issue involving Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma.

Richards echoed the concerns of many with his position on “the precedents now being set” by the situation and its effects on the public’s confidence levels where the justice system was concerned.

Richards declared with great purpose that “certain courses of action are immediately required as a matter of necessity in defence of the rule of law and the proper administration of justice in T&T.”

Whether or not in reaction to Richards’s statement (and previous meetings with the President prior to the address), CJ Sharma had the following day adjusted his portfolio.

It is also uncertain whether this was part of the “measured action” to which Richards alluded in his address or intended.

But Sharma’s move appeared to open him up to scrutiny where section 103 of the Constitution was concerned. (See news)

However, yesterday’s development with the appointment of Appeal Court Justice Roger Hamel-Smith to act as Chief Justice seemed more clearly part of Richards’ “measured action.”

Richards has said his “measured action” must “be no more than that which is absolutely necessary to restore the confidence of the citizenry in the rule of law and the administration of justice.”

But even as the Hamel-Smith development may have resolved an aspect of the Sharma controversy—particularly for the PNM Government—it has also caused the Opposition, for one, to look askance at Richards, wondering at some possible “entrapment” where he was concerned.

If Richards had appeared as the nation’s saving grace on Tuesday, he seemed by yesterday, in the Opposition’s eyes, to be a victim of alleged PNM manipulation in the issue.

Certain very high-profile careers may remain affected—indeed tainted—by the entire episode .

In last week’s developments also, glaringly large differences between some of the highest members of the law fraternity and the State were underscored in very public—and distasteful—airings.

The fighting words in those quarters were also mirrored in former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday’s statements on the Sharma issue with which he chose to return to the front.

His statements, however, appear to have served him less well in this instance than previously, with a population wearied somewhat by the drama of the CJ issue.

Panday’s reported statements about protest demonstrations catapulted the T&T Chamber, for one, into summoning an emergency meeting last Saturday with East/West business groups.

But the chamber, now led by president Ian Welch, did not succeed in getting the groups to speak out against Panday’s statement solely. Welch is also chairman of the Sports Ministry’s Local Organising Committee for the Cricket World Cup.

Some groups recently questioned the sector’s silence on the Sharma issue and, at Saturday’s meeting, several expressed the view this should also be dealt with along with Panday’s statements, officials said.

Key chamber officials recently told some sectors that the chamber would not comment on the Sharma matter “since it was not a business issue.”

The Group of 21, spearheaded by the chamber, has reduced weekly meetings on the crime situation to every six weeks instead, due to lack of resources on the part of the larger northwest groups to facilitate meetings continuously, members confirmed.

Contentions also arose in the body when some groups pressed to have the focus extended to national issues, a position the T&T Chamber resisted but was outvoted on recently, officials added.

UNC’s Panday, meanwhile, was still focusing up to yesterday on trying to bring UNC leader Winston Dookeran back into the fold, via another meeting.

Up to 5 pm yesterday, Panday had not succeeded in reaching Dookeran, it was confirmed.

Following all that has transpired, the Dookeran camp chose to adopt a publicly sceptical approach to Panday’s move to heal the rift and Dookeran himself commented on the unity call indirectly while pressing on with his view on forming a new national congress.

Monday’s two and a half hour meeting between both men, sources said, ended with no decision or direction from Dookeran.

“He spoke little and asked how they were to resolve the situation, saying they had to talk about the leadership. He asked to ponder the situation but presented no conditions and only complained that he was not being allowed to lead the party, indirectly inferring also that Panday himself was still wielding some control,” they noted.

Some executive members said yesterday they were uncertain if the effort would bear fruit because of a perceived hardened position by Dookeran’s team.

“Whether Dookeran may be accepted as Opposition Leader—one of his concerns recently—is uncertain due to the polarised situation. Even if this works, it may only be temporarily and may seem for cosmetic purposes,” one source added.

However, senior members of Dookeran’s camp were anxious yesterday to stamp out the perception that the meeting between Panday and Dookeran would not continue.

UNC deputy leader Jack Warner for one has minced no words on Panday’s move and his uncertainty that it will work. He returns to his longtime home of Longdenville on Monday night to launch a campaign to fight the Chaguanas East seat.

However, a mutual love-fest of sorts took place earlier in the week between Warner and the PNM—on sports.

Warner, who lashes the PNM evenly when on the platform, was in a more benign mood after Sunday’s meeting with Prime Minister Patrick Manning on sports development.

At the functions for Beenhakker, Warner even quoted Manning on the benefit of sport to T&T and repeated Manning’s advice to the Soca Warriors to save and invest.

In turn, Sports Minister Roger Boynes, representing the Government, gushed to overflowing about Warner and the team.

(It was saved from being saccharin-bordering-on-diabetes-inducing by the fact that Warner is a fitness enthusiast and Boynes jogs up four flights of stairs to his office daily.)

But despite the love-in, Warner said yesterday: “I have no plans to become trapped by the PNM.”





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