High Court judge Rajendra Narine put fire into the investigation, on Friday, of a disturbing matter long lurking on the periphery of the national consciousness; the openly-articulated accusations of Jamaat al Muslimeen leader Abu Bakr that he had struck a deal with the PNM's leadership in 2002 to trade his organisation's debt to the state for political leverage.
The judgment by Justice Narine was the final act of a legal wrangle that dates back 19 years to the destruction wrought by the Jamaat insurrectionists, and the subsequent efforts by the State to extract repayment for the costs associated with the damage suffered by its holdings during that time.
The case has taken its time, torturously and circuitously, it must be noted, through the legal system before coming to this point, and Justice Narine took appropriately sober note of the content of Yasin Abu Bakr's appeal case before the Privy Council and the ramifications of his statement.
In his 27-page judgment, Justice Narine noted that:
"These are the pronouncements of the highest court in this jurisdiction. Yet, as far as the court is aware, no action has been taken by the appropriate authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of these allegations.
"The allegations made by the second defendant (Bakr) are extremely serious. If they are true, they strike at the heart of our democratic system of government." Abu Bakr's statement to the Privy Council makes cynical sense, framed in the context of the politics of dirty tricks, but the specific accusations are damning in their scope.
As the case made its way through the legal system, it came before the Court of Appeal, which ruled that the Bakr affidavit was "illegal and unenforceable, both under Section 3 of the Prevention of Corruption Act," further describing its content as "comprising scandalous material," ordering that the entire affidavit be struck out.
Crucial to understanding the issue, as it relates to the Jamaat's case, is the ruling by the Court of Appeal, at this point, that the agreement described in the Bakr affidavit was illegal in common law, rendering it useless as a legal instrument.
Justice Narine's judgment, then, seeks not to clarify the affidavit as a court document, but as the source of substantive accusations of impropriety in public service of such scale that they demand proper and independent investigation.
More startling is the subsequent revelation by acting Director of Public Prosecutions Carla Brown-Antoine, that she was not only in receipt of the Bakr affidavit since May 6, she had further forwarded it to the acting Commissioner of Police James Philbert shortly thereafter, well aware of the statements and presumably the implications of the Privy Council's judgment. In response, CoP Philbert claimed ignorance of the critical document, having received nothing "personally."
In order to bring some clarity to the situation, all the parties involved must understand that what is at stake in the investigation that Justice Narine has directed is nothing less than the political future of the constitutionally-elected leader of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
It would be unreasonable to expect that the Prime Minister, should he face court time in defence of these accusations, would hold himself to a different standard than the one he imposed on Franklyn Khan and Eric Williams, when they were called on to respond in court to accusations that cut to the heart of their execution of their responsibilities to the State.
Given the seriousness of the matter, this is clearly a case that demands independent investigation, led by counsel with no affiliations or links to party or special interests in Trinidad and Tobago.
The principals involved in this matter, as outlined in the Bakr affidavit, are both very public figures who have tended to create strongly-polarised opinions.
This is, therefore, a case that should not be tainted by either the ruling party or the opposition, who are quite likely to be tempted to turn it into a political football, and in doing so, colour the public perception of an issue that deserves proper, thorough investigation.