Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The case for the ‘unlawful but not lawless’ farmer

The “illegal” farming and squatting on the Aripo plains invite the comparison between “the unlawful but not lawless” as claimed by one farmer and the downright “lawless” which is so common in this country.

Now, for me, there can be no compro­mise about not observing the law. Granted that the law can be fraught with inconsistencies—like the idea of “beyond reasonable doubt” when the evidence points to 99 per cent guilt as against a single loophole which lawyers exploit to the fullest, or the claim of a “lack” of evidence pointing to guilt, which would have been deliberately suppressed once again by clever, manipulative lawyers or powerful criminals through coercion, or evidence not forthcoming because of incompetent investigators. But even with its “human” failings, the law has to be observed, if not for any other reason but the continuance of civilised living, indeed, for human civilisation as we know it. The alternative would be chaos and anarchy.

So on one level, I can have no real empathy for the farmer who claims that even as his action is “unlawful”, he is not “lawless”. Still, is not there need to review the law about illegal farming and squatting if such activity is for sheer survival and not overtly or deliberately to the detriment of others and the environment?

Let’s take the first. Can we disallow those who simply seek to survive by what the land can provide—and this is an important distinction—as against “tiefing” and going to jail as the farmer claims, or downright starving? Secondly, can such “illegal”activity be so distressful to others around experiencing the same plight? Hardly, I think, for they must think that any unwarranted attention by the law or that precipitated by warring factions can only jeopardise their situation, as in this instance when they are now in focus. “Community” can be their only resolve if they are to survive. Finally, what of the environment? Surely the impact of squatting and illegal farming is sure to endanger the ecology, but would it be to a degree that is significantly consequential?

This issue of environmental impact is as old as history, and nature is perpetually subjected to this intrusion, all in the name of development. These arguments are by no means fool-proof, but at the end of it all, the law in this context must be allowed to evolve, maintaining the necessary checks and balances, yet catering for the inevitable “human” development, applying the “spirit” rather than the “letter”.

And this, all the more, just because of another contradiction in the law in the way it is administered in this country. Following the letter, these “lawbreakers” may be ousted from Aripo, but what of the rampant lawlessness around us being allowed free rein because of a judicial system which, from top to bottom, is inept and ineffective? How do you weigh the “unlawful but not lawless” as in this case with such lawlessness. The law has to evolve to become more “human”, but it must also apply an iron hand to those who would scoff at it.

Errol Benjamin

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