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From Solomon to Stuart—The national security parade

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Come on. Let’s face it. T&T ministers of national security are known neither for spectacular success nor for longevity in the position.

To those who have been paying attention, this is the stuff of political tradition here.

That the midnight ritual of ageing men should have been intercepted by such news ought to have been entirely conceivable.

Indeed, had we been on obsessive watch, Monday’s early-morning news of Edmund Dillon’s demise and Stuart Young’s rise would have lost its stealthy intent and the impact on social discourse its sting. Could it have been that the “other” appointment that very morning had in fact had an intriguing connection?

No better time than the month of August, the month of our political independence, to bring current expression to a longstanding parade. For example, it was in time for our independence in 1962 we saw the appointment of then home affairs minister, Dr Patrick Solomon—whose story is now a part of political lore and precedent.

We would recall that Solomon would last a little more than two years in the post, following a bold police station sortie in 1964 to rescue his step-son from the clutches of the law after the young man had been charged for cussing and “throwing missiles.”

On September 14 that year, in the midst of considerable public outrage, Solomon was forced to resign. His place was taken by Gerald Montano who served for five and a half years: that is before the Black Power uprising occurred and then prime minister, BAHADURDr Eric Williams, stepped in to take direct charge for just under a year.

The late John Donaldson holds the long-service record, having held the post from September 1976 to May 1985, but there also were Joseph Theodore, 1995 to 2000 and Martin Joseph, who served from November 2003 to May 2010. These apart, nobody else has survived an entire five-year term in the position.

On two occasions, the prime ministers themselves took on the portfolio. In 1970 it was Dr Williams for 11 months and in 2001 prime minister Basdeo Panday took on the responsibility for around ten months.

Overand Padmore served in the post under Dr Williams from September 1973 to September 1975 and again under George Chambers from March 1985 to December 1986 when he was replaced by Herbert Atwell, who lasted three years under ANR Robinson.

All others have not fared very well. Basil Pitt was there for less than a year, Victor Campbell for one year and John Eckstein was minister for four months.

Then came the unforgettable period, 2010 to 2015, when there were five ministers in one term. John Sandy was there for 11 months, followed by Jack Warner for ten, Emmanuel George five, Gary Griffith (the same one) for 17 months and the roller-coaster came to an end with Carl Alfonso, who was minister of national security for just seven months.

Now comes Young, following a stint featuring Dillon, who falls short of a three-year appointment by just one month.

All of this to say that Monday’s 12.30 am dispatch from the Prime Minister’s Office, if it can be imagined, is even less disquieting than the 56-year-old passing parade that has moved from one spectacle to the next.

The only development of comparable note in the national security arena has been the appointment and continual re-appointment of Stephen Williams to the post of acting Police Commissioner. Yesterday, August 7, would have marked six years since the start of a fiasco that has spanned the political divide.

Mr Dillon has now gone to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. One of these days, we will make the time to have a closer look at the fortunes of politicians who have ventured there.

In the meantime, we would do well to keep an eye on the Griffith-Young alliance and how well they negotiate historically murky waters.


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