As soon as he was sworn in last month Minister of Works and Transport Jack Warner made it clear that he intends to keep his FIFA vice-president post. Questioned about his possible workload in relation to his posts as a minister and FIFA vice- president, Warner said, “I will wait and see if I am able to manage. Sleeping is a luxury that I cannot afford. If I can’t do it, I will give up football.”
But of course, the real ethical issue is not whether Warner is capable of holding both offices and handling their workloads, but rather whether or not it is right. To some extent the first issue feeds into the second, in that we may argue that if Warner spreads himself too thinly he may do a disservice to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and hence, not fulfil his oath of office. However make no mistake: the issue is deeper than this. It is a question of whether it is appropriate for a minister to sit in Cabinet while he is beholden to a corporate entity.
On a basic level, football in Trinidad and Tobago is going to be relevant to several ministries in the Cabinet and to several of Warner’s colleagues. While there may appear to be no direct conflict in terms of Warner’s portfolio (Works and Transport) that is no reassurance that Warner does not and will not, as a member of the Government, exert influence throughout all levels of the Government. Even if he did not, his mere presence on the Cabinet, a body that will adjudicate matters which may be of interest to FIFA, appears to undermine confidence in the ethical standards of governance.
How Warner chooses to manage all of this is up to him. He has hinted that he is willing to give up football. But he should have done that from day one and has not. Will he recuse himself from certain sittings of Cabinet? Will that be an adequate means of dealing with the clear conflict of interest his simultaneous posts now raise? Time will tell how Warner will handle this. But it is clear that if he is to maintain any form of credibility and to distinguish himself from the members of the last administration, Warner will have to give up something. And give up something fast.
Warner is not the only member of Cabinet facing a tricky conflict of interest situation. Consider also the new Attorney General Anand Ramlogan who will, as the AG, preside over the management of civil cases which he once brought against the State during his time in private practice at Freedom Chambers, San Fernando.
Ramlogan, from day one, stated clearly that he will recuse himself from considering all cases which involved himself as counsel. This was a good move. Presumably, in relation to outstanding legal costs for any such cases, Ramlogan will also devise a mechanism of removing himself from hearings for costs for which the State must negotiate the quantum to be paid for counsel. How effective this will be will depend on the way Ramlogan effects recusal, and whether an officer subordinate to him can be trusted to function freely under him and manage cases in which that officer’s boss was once involved, impartially.