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THE HAFEEZ EFFECT

Published: 
Sunday, June 19, 2016

The revelation last week that former PNM senator Hafeez Ali was caught in a sex video scandal rocked the nation, but only for a few days. After that, the PNM media strategy was to cast Hafeez as a victim who needed help. This proved to be very effective as the mainstream media let it go.

On September 5, 2015, at the PNM’s final rally before the general election, in presenting Hafeez to the crowd as the candidate for Barataria/San Juan he was described by the announcer as “an accounting technician, a commercial pilot, a businessman, an everything man who will make Barataria/San Juan a safe seat for the PNM.”

In fact, Hafeez was so important to the PNM that in discarding the Williams doctrine about never appointing defeated candidates as senators, Prime Minister Rowley included Hafeez among the four defeated PNM candidates who were appointed senators. The other three were Clarence Rambharat (Mayaro), Avinash Singh (Caroni Central) and Sara Budu (Caroni East).

It was clear that there was a Hafeez effect as Barataria/San Juan was once a PNM safe seat and since 1995 when Linda Baboolal lost it to Fuad Khan, it has only ever returned once to the PNM fold. That was in 2007 when Joseph Ross won it in a split vote election between the COP (Jamal Mohammed) and the UNC (Nazemool Mohammed). Fuad Khan returned in 2010 and retained it again in 2015.

As part of the PNM’s strategy to try and regain total control of the East-West corridor, Barataria-San Juan is crucial to that effort as the only other seat that the PNM has had tremendous difficulty winning is the UNC safe seat of St Augustine. They recaptured St Joseph, Tunapuna, La Horquetta/Talparo and Toco/Sangre Grande.

This scandal involving Hafeez Ali will hit the party very hard in the Barataria/San Juan area and so it was not surprising that the party moved swiftly to send a signal with the appointment of the grandson of Kamaluddin Mohammed as a temporary senator for Dennis Moses. 

The deeper issue involved in the Hafeez scandal is whether his activities were going on when he was screened in April 2015, or during the general election campaign after nomination day on August 17 or after he was appointed a senator on September 23.

These are questions that must be asked. If this were a UNC senator there would be no doubt that these questions would be asked. That is just how the society is configured.

According to the Government during the SSA Amendment Bill debate, the average citizen does not have any right to privacy. That is exactly the point that Hafeez Ali made when he spoke during that debate on May 10 instant. His colleagues who defended the point about not having privacy are now begging for him to have privacy. What a strange twist.

Listen to Hafeez Ali during the SSA debate: “Again, the point I am making, Madam President, how can we enjoy the right of privacy if we do not have life, (desk thumping) where the criminal activity is taking over the nation?” (Hansard, Senate, May 10, 2016, p 108)

The point that Hafeez Ali was making in defence of his government’s position of no right to privacy was that without life you cannot enjoy privacy. Well, right now one would imagine that he might want to change that particular line because he has both life and no privacy. He of all people would want privacy right now and so too would some of his PNM colleagues who chose to portray him as mentally troubled by talking about him getting “the counseling he need.”

This was the only way the party could have wiggled itself out of a very embarrassing situation. By portraying him as mentally troubled the party could earn some sympathy for him and so let the story simply fade away. That is a very good strategy.

One can only hope that the party will review its screening and vetting processes for candidates and senators in the future, especially when the person is likely to be a defeated candidate who will then be appointed a senator.

The issue of technology was also addressed by Hafeez Ali in his contribution to the debate on the SSA bill as follows:

“The law is trying to enable the agencies, to try to be up-to-date with those technologies, that we will be able to counter the criminal elements in the society. These days, the criminal elements are using the technology and information to create havoc in the society. For example, only yesterday a member from Barataria, he came to me stating that his credit card has been misused by $10,000 for Netflix, purchase of phone cards, clothes, but the banks really do not want to hear about that. He has to pay, but what he is saying, Madam President, he wants to know who did that? And this law will give the legislation the teeth, to be able find out what took place in those kinds of scenarios?”

Was this his own story? Who knows.

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