February 2, 2007

Getting our priorities straight


Now that Prime Minister and Minister of National Security Dr Ralph Gonsalves has made a Parliamentary statement on the release of the prisoner convicted of drug charges from Prisons with less than four months of his sentence to be served, it is to be hoped that the political hullabaloo would now be laid to rest and that we can all focus on the broader issues of national development.

Just on the evening before Tuesday’s sitting of parliament, noted Queen Counsel Mr P.R. Campbell, a former Attorney General and member of the Mercy Committee for seven years, had himself in his weekly television broadcast “The Law and You”, debunked the conspiracy theory that was rapidly making the rounds and made nonsense of the furor raised by the Opposition in this regard.{{more}} In fact both Mr Campbell and Dr Gonsalves traced the historical precedents in the early release of prisoners whether on grounds of National Security, compassion or otherwise.

These clarifications came in the light of a national broadcast by the Leader of the Opposition Hon Arnhim Eustace in which he again called on the Prime Minister to give a public explanation as to the reason for the release of the prisoner. That the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition would make such a statement after himself being extensively briefed by the Prime Minister, was at best puzzling but more realistically, bordered on irresponsibility. For the Opposition Leader himself had admitted that he had received ‘significant” information from the Prime Minister which led to the release.

Yet even though, as the P.M. explained, there is no legal or constitutional requirement, or even precedent, in such a briefing of an Opposition Leader, and the grounds of National Security were clearly invoked, Mr Eustace preferred to take the route of political oppositionism and pandering to those who alleged some form of wrong-doing in this matter.

Indeed there were elements of the Opposition Leader’s national broadcast that could be termed as distasteful particularly the not-so-subtle attempts to link the prisoner’s release with some sort of drug connection in the current administration, even seeming to question the judgment of the Courts on some matters. Clearly one expects a greater degree of responsibility and leadership from the Opposition especially where matters of National Security are concerned. The pity in all this is that amid the irrational outbursts of the Opposition and the rantings on some of the radio stations, significant national issues were being sidelined in favour of some spurious debate on prisoner release. While we were having the airwaves saturated with non-issues, the critical securing of $150 million debt forgiveness on Ottley Hall with the property to revert to state control was largely being ignored. What are our priorities? Similarly, the equally important accomplishment of securing of a LIAT-CARIBBEAN STAR merger, which aimed at stemming the suicidal hemorrhage affecting both, was not given as much attention as it deserves.

We cannot continue to be chasing political shadows while ignoring the bone before us. Our tasks of nation-building are too vital to be subsumed by political bickering on trivial issues. It is time for us to re-focus and get our priorities right.