?Just minutes after receiving his instrument of appointment as the Leader of the Opposition on Friday, Dr Keith Rowley declared that it was his intention to write to the Integrity Commission on the issue of Jack Warner serving as Minister of Works while holding down a top post at Fifa.
Dr Rowley said he was seeking an opinion from the Integrity Commission on whether it was proper for Mr Warner to sit in Cabinet while holding an office in any other organisation, "especially a fee-paying office, outside of Cabinet." While Dr Rowley's move has been sharply criticised by supporters of the People's Partnership administration, there is merit in an inquiry about whether Mr Warner can serve as Minister of Works and Transport and as Fifa vice president. The common-sense position, based on the Westminster tradition, is that he cannot serve both offices and that he will be required to choose one. The tradition is that on becoming a minister, the senator or MP resigns all previous jobs or positions–paid or unpaid–and places their financial affairs in trust. Cutting ties with previous jobs or positions and the placing of the new minister's affairs in trust serve to remove the minister from potential conflicts of interest which may arise.
It is not our intention to prejudge this matter. But if the Integrity Commission decides that there is nothing wrong in Mr Warner serving in both Cabinet and Fifa at the same time, it seems obvious that it would be opening the door to a further deterioration in the political culture of T&T. Allowing Jack to keep his jacket would set an unpalatable precedent. It would mean that the lawyers or the former judge in the Cabinet would be able to accept private briefs or dispense professional legal advice. It would mean that the radio talk show host who became minister would be able to resume his daily tirades. Whaaat. It would mean that ministers who wrote newspaper columns before taking up their office would be able to resume writing their commentaries. And it would mean that university lecturers among the Cabinet would be able to resume teaching. Clearly, this is one slippery slope that politics in this country, which has not escaped unscathed from the scourge of corruption and influence-peddling, should seek to avoid.
That being said, it would be a great pity if the new Government were to lose someone with Jack Warner's tremendous vision and energy. He is a man with seeming unparallelled ability to work long hours in a focused and dedicated manner leading to results. In a country that has been weighed down for decades by a paralysis of analysis, which leads to reams of documents and reports but little action, Mr Warner has a proven ability to get things done–cutting through red tape by tapping his vast network of contacts, while not necessarily cutting corners. Typical of the way Mr Warner operates is the process which led to a decision to open up the Priority Bus Route.
As the People's Partnership's new Minister of Works and Transport, just days after he was sworn in, Mr Warner held a meeting with representatives of maxi-taxi groups on the morning of a public holiday. By the end of the meeting he was able to announce that an agreement had been reached to allow private vehicles, starting on June 16, to use the bus route during set times of the day for a trial period of three months. It may be that the Warner experiment for the Priority Bus Route turns out to be a failure as Mr Warner's ministerial predecessor, Colm Imbert, has already predicted. But it could be that in that failed experiment there is a germ of an idea that leads to even incremental success with regard to the perennially thorny issue of traffic along the East-West Corridor. Such a germ may come from the stipulation that private vehicles using the Priority Bus Route during the stipulated hours should practise carpooling–three or more passengers in the vehicle. T&T needs people who can think outside the box and get things done. We hope Mr Warner makes the right decision.