March 18, 2007
Despite the fact that he is, by his own admission, a man with an unfailingly positive outlook on events, even President Jagdeo might have succumbed to a stray negative thought or two on receipt of some recent news. It is always possible, of course, that his eye simply glossed over the item in question and he refused to allow the negativity inherent in its content to subtract from his stock of good cheer. But whatever the case, it still leaves his government with something of a problem which will need to be addressed in the not-too-remote future.
On Thursday last week this newspaper reported that Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik had refused a plea deal with federal prosecutors whereby he would have pleaded guilty to federal tax and wire-tapping conspiracy charges in the United States. Some US news outlets said that the plea bargain involved a two-year prison term for Mr Kerik, while The New York Times reported a former federal prosecutor as saying that when plea negotiations failed, an indictment was nearly always sought. In addition the newspaper also said that federal investigators had been exploring a range of allegations about the former Commissioner, and had been reviewing the circumstances under which he had accepted free renovations to his apartment from a New Jersey contractor. Last year he had pleaded guilty in the State Supreme Court in the Bronx to two misdemeanours in relation to the last-mentioned matter.
The issue is, as everyone knows, that Mr Kerik has been retained as a security advisor to President Bharrat Jagdeo and Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee. One presumes that he is the replacement for a Peruvian, Mr Leonardo Caparros, who was fired, so to speak, before anyone outside government circles even knew that he had been hired. In our edition of February 25 this year we reported that he had been appointed as a technical advisor to former Minister of Home Affairs Gail Teixeira on July 24, 2006, and had been expected to review and evaluate the security policies, laws and regulations forming the enabling framework for responding to crime. In that report we also said that Mr Caparros had been expected to play a key role in the implementation of the citizens' security programme, which included reform of the police force. Based in the Ministry of Home Affairs he had begun work, it seems, in the area of human rights, police reform and oversight of police operations.
Leaving aside the question of how Mr Caparros was hired, what happened to cause the contract of this unusually low-key security consultant to be terminated? The answer to that is unlcear, although this newspaper was told that the minister might have opted to dispense with the Peruvian's services because President Jagdeo had appointed Mr Kerik. For his part, Minister Rohee was reported as saying that the ministry did not have a need for his expertise, and that the decision to let him go had been his.
Well all of this is very curious. Since so little is known about Mr Caparros and the work he did for the few months he was here, it is impossible to judge the wisdom or otherwise of the Minister of Home Affairs deciding to end the contractual arrangement with him. However, one cannot help but feel that whatever his strengths or weaknesses, he could not possibly have been a less suitable candidate for the post than Mr Bernard Kerik. Unlike his self-effacing predecessor, the former New York Police Commissioner had plenty of exposure in the local media after President Jagdeo announced it was his intention to take him on in a consultancy capacity. It was known, for example, that he had pleaded guilty to the two misdemeanours mentioned above, in addition to which he was under investigation by the FBI at the time in relation to another matter connected to his stint at the Department of Corrections. Furthermore, he had at one stage been President Bush's nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security, but had had to withdraw after some of his personal history went into the public domain. It might be added that on the first occasion he came to this country, he gave an interview which demonstrated that he had done no homework whatsoever, and knew precisely zilch about the constitutional and legal framework within which he would have to offer advice.
There was criticism from a number of quarters about retaining an advisor on the police force who was ethically compromised; after all, how can his recommendations on corruption carry any weight with the police when his own record is not unblemished? Anyone who is to put forward anti-corruption proposals, it was said, must himself boast a spotlessly clean sheet. President Jagdeo was patently unmoved by these arguments, their validity notwithstanding. Since the FBI investigations into some of Mr Kerik's actions were ongoing last year, it was also suggested by this newspaper that it would be to take an unnecessary risk to give the former Commissioner a consultancy before the outcome of those investigations was known. After all, the government could well find itself in an embarrassing situation.
And that, it seems, may turn out to be the case, given the strong likelihood that Mr Kerik will be indicted on federal charges. Since as mentioned above, other allegations against him are also under investigation, it is possible that there could be more to come. Mr Kerik's fees are being paid for by the Guyanese taxpayers, and as such, they are entitled to accountability and transparency in terms of how their money is spent. There is every reason to believe that on this occasion, it was not spent wisely, added to which the circumstances surrounding this particular consultant's appointment do not reflect the recommended approach in a democracy.
What is difficult to understand is why the administration insisted on making what was so obviously a flawed decision which potentially could embarrass it, when it could just have simply let the matter slide after the election. Now it has to face the consequences of that decision, and will be obliged to make up its mind about what its response will be if an indictment is indeed handed down in the United States. As far as the public is concerned, it will be clear that there is need to terminate Mr Kerik's contract - ideally with immediate effect - before any more revelations are forthcoming, although how long it will take the powers-that-be to come to that obvious conclusion is another matter.
As it is, it may be that the administration may come to regret bundling Mr Caparros so unceremoniously back to Lima after all.