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Jamal Mohammed: Obstacles in the PP’s way
Obstacles are being placed in the way of the PP Government implementing their manifesto pledges. This from Information and Communications Minister Jamal Mohammed, who cannot say if these obstacles are acts designed to sabotage the administration. Senator Mohammed, a teacher by training, denies he is a stupid person and praises the relationship between the Government and the news media.
Q: Senator Mohammed, by your own apparent admission, are you a stupid person?
A: (At his Nicholas Towers office in Port-of-Spain, early Thursday morning) Clevon, I am not a stupid person. I made that remark in the Parliament shortly after the new members were selected by the Prime Minister to join her Cabinet, I being among them...the likes of Larry Howai, Ms Marlene Coudray, Ganga Singh.
I was trying to say that compared to these illustrious people I am a nobody...I was trying to say I cannot even tie their shoelaces...and the media ran with that. But I am cool, I have no problem with that.
You have a knack for making somewhat controversial statements, the latest describing yourself as a Muslim coolie?
Again, that was another spur-of-the-moment remark. But I just want the media practitioners, including you, Clevon, to know that the media has no greater friend than this Minister of Communication. I am in full support of the freedom of the press.
Recently, I have been under attack as a threat to the media as though I am some force looking to trample on the fourth estate, and that is so far from the truth.
And this is my watchword, Clevon. (He retrieves a small flyer from his desk and reads):
“The theory of the free press is not that the truth will be presented completely or perfectly in any one instance, but that the truth will emerge from free discussion.” That’s what we need to have in our country, particularly at this time, and to some extent we are not having that in the media right now.
What is the evidence to support that assertion?
If you look at certain media houses—and I am not pointing fingers at any one of them—reporters and media houses have taken a certain bias by not allowing the other side to be presented, which is a bit unfortunate.
Are you saying, Senator Mohammed, that simply because those media houses might express a view different to that of the Government, they are being biased?
No. Not necessarily. But you can clearly see it by the way some news reports are slanted, especially under the guise of investigative journalism, and a trend has been developing over a period of time. I simply want people to be aware, and the only way the truth will emerge is to have frank and open discussions.
I am not here to defend any media house, but surely you must remember that during the Manning administration, especially during the election period, the media were vigorously exposing a lot of their misdeeds. Isn’t it the same thing that the PP is now experiencing...the work of a very aggressive media?
(Adjusting his glasses) No problem. That is the duty of the media, and I am in no way trying to discourage or stop that. What I am trying to do is to ensure there is always balance in the reporting of any situation. Certain writers are publishing in the media articles without giving both sides of the issues. But more importantly, it is being done solely to embarrass people.
A few days ago one of the dailies published a story saying that the Prime Minister purchased a vehicle, something that is available to all ministers and senior public servants, but the way it was presented it appeared as though Mrs Persad-Bissessar did something wrong. (Frowning).
Secondly, a story about the Attorney General and homes that he may have purchased before he became Senator Anand Ramlogan and assumed that office. Why do so, except to embarrass these people? But the one that really broke my back, Clevon, was when I saw something about Carlos John purchasing a car for his daughter with the number 34, which was done years ago. I am still trying to find out the link between that transaction and the controversial Section 34.
Why those stories would be published, unless the intention was to embarrass these people and to create the perception of wrongdoing?
Mr Minister, one of the first things you said on being appointed to this portfolio is that you want the media and the Government to be on the same page, something you would be working to achieve.
But I am sure you are aware the relationship between both parties has always been one of an adversarial nature, and you know that would never become a reality?
Yes. We have to change that and we have to work together, because they are the channels through which we can get our information out there. We have to keep working on it and this ministry believes that the people of T&T have the right to know what their Government is doing. So it is our duty to do so by any legal and justifiable means.
When you talk about working together, and given the type of relationship between both sides, don’t you agree the only way that can be achieved is in a totalitarian state?
No. No. We are a democracy but the media and the Government have their respective roles to play. Part of our mandate is to get the information out there and the best way to achieve that is through all sections of the media, including the social media...we have to use every means available to us. Now, I made a statement the other day...
Before continuing, how would you describe the relationship between the media and the PP administration...good, fair, unfair, very good, bad?
I think it is an excellent relationship because we have a free press where anyone can publish just about anything as long as it is not libellous or slanderous. That freedom is not something you will find in many other countries around the globe.
So that I am very heartened with the relationship we have with the media.
Now, Clevon, as you must know, one of the conditions enshrined in a licence being awarded to an electronic media house is that government must be given two hours every day to broadcast free of charge governmental activities. We intend to approach every one of them to agree that we must be given that opportunity to connect with the people on a wide range of government activities.
Senator Mohammed, there is this constant charge that the Government is overindulging in PR stunts and not doing sufficiently the work it was elected to do.
Clevon, this is a very hard-working government and the Prime Minister has instructed us to focus on four things (itemising them on his fingers): To grow the economy, create jobs, reduce crime and to reduce poverty.
When we took office we found there were many things which need to be changed. People are accustomed to certain things and it is difficult to make the changes at the speed we would like to travel and there is a status quo that exists in this country that some people do not want to change.
Can you elaborate on this status quo thing?
For example, it takes too long to get things done. If as a member of Parliament I want to fix a road, you have to go through the list of things to get that road paved. It is really daunting.
Yes. The thing I have noticed however, is that in some cases there are some people who are trying their best to get things done on behalf of the people. Then there are others who are putting things in place to prevent things from happening.
At what level?
Different levels. People just want to be there pushing paper doing this, doing that, just to delay a process. Things that can be done with the snap of a finger. (Snaps his fingers). Some decisions that can be made...just sitting on the desk there of somebody.
Do you think this is sabotage?
(Hesitatingly) I don’t know if it is deliberate but I know there are obstacles in our way.
I cannot say if it is deliberate but we know there are obstacles and this Government has to find a way to cross those challenges.
Senator Mohammed, a government minister told me years ago that even a lowly placed public servant can sabotage a minister’s work by simply, quote and unquote, losing a file.
Yeah, and it has happened and it continues to happen. We see it in several locations. These things are happening and I am not going to say it is deliberate, but it is the system, Clevon, the system. We have to find a way to work around that and other challenges which tend to impede the progress of our mandate to serve the people. The system has to be changed in an organised fashion.
This Government came into office based on a number of pledges, including constitutional reform, term limits, the right of recall, referendum for important national matters and so on.
What are the chances of these measures being implemented before the end of the PP’s first term in office?
We have no choice, this was a pledge and it will be done.
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