Accountability lesson T&T can learn from
THE jailing after trial of seven Italian scientists for failing to predict and warn about a deadly earthquake has itself sent shock waves around the world. Seismologists and geologists are among those convicted, in a ground-breaking prosecution, for neglecting to warn about the 'quake that killed 300 people.
Though it may not immediately serve as a legal precedent for T&T, the case has profound meaning for scientific and other experts around the world who are implicitly being held to a high standard in performing a duty of care in applying due diligence to inform and advise the general public of certain kinds of impending danger.
In T&T, some parallel experts (Central Bankers, Town and Country Planning, etc) tend to be connected to the state. The application of the Italian case could, in the local context, open up the state to extended legal liability. Ordinary citizens should welcome the widening of opportunity to sue the state for negligence.
Thus so-called financial experts charged with a watchdog brief would have to think twice before turning a blind eye to irregularities and not sticking to the straight and narrow path, allowing companies entrusted with large amounts of public money to cut corners and dodge crucial and regular legislative check-ups.
And before you know it, the supposedly solvent institutions have stretched themselves thin to the point of no return and all hell breaks loose. Of course, those most affected are the recent retirees who invested their life savings in the formerly vibrant firms and, before you could say "too good to be true", those savings have all gone up in smoke and countless pensioners have absolutely nothing to see them through their golden years.
If, a la the Italians, those suffering citizens left bankrupt had the power to sue the state and its negligent financial regulators, then they could hold out some fleeting hope of retrieving part or even the majority of their hard-earned savings.
And the regulators would be blacklisted and even sent to prison for their dilly-dallying and not sounding the alarm when those under their watch failed to meet stringent stipulations which are in place just for that reason, so that corrective action could be taken early.
Then there are the bureaucrats at the state agency charged with regulating the way citizens develop and build on the land around us.
When you close your eyes at night thinking that those so authorised are looking after your interest, you wake up and there are sprawling developments all over the hillsides. A mass of steel and concrete (and sometimes there isn't even any steel to retain the concrete) have replaced the trees and shrubbery, and water is pouring into the rivers and valleys down below and people lose everything to the ravages of floods.
Again, those who have looked on helplessly at the destruction of all their worldly possessions, unable to fend off the raging water, could take those planners who shirked their responsibility to court and be reimbursed for their losses.
But that would only be in a perfect world, which certainly does not apply to Trinidad and Tobago.