Thursday, January 18, 2018

As A Nation Stirs

Sunity Maharaj53

Mark Fraser

 Under the cacophony of noise, from somewhere inside our collective sense of disturbance, rises the sound of a nation being born. 

Listen closely and you will hear the stirrings of a responsible class, lifting itself out of the stupor of amnesia and alienation to stand firmly on the side of this place.

Fear not the maelstrom of noise and contestation. It is the sound of a nation in open conversation with itself as interests and opinions collide and collude, the impact profound enough to shift our borrowed and buried boundaries across new, more meaningful thresholds of norms of values and norms.

In the cross-hairs of this process is the pivotal relationship between power and the people. Will the people claim their power, or will they continue to surrender into the hands of forces outside of them?

In the matter of the AG vs the SG, the issue is potent and dynamically alive.

In dramatic fashion, it presents us with a tangible expression of what maximum leadership looks like. Power, unaccountable to no one, still living large among us a full fifty-one years after independence.

Caught in the ironies of life in a colonial republic, we reach for solutions and, suddenly, such obscurities as constitution reform and procurement legislation become real and crystal clear. Now we know why we need them.

Columnist attorney Dana Seetahal has wondered why former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell carried her concerns about professional legal ethics to the Prime Minister and not to the disciplinary committee of the Law Association. Well, because beneath the concerns about legal ethics, the litigation controversy is, at heart, a procurement issue involving the use of state funds in contracting legal services and settling cases. In this case, what makes it potentially explosive is that, if proven to be well-founded, it damages not only the Treasury but Lady Justice herself.

The possible involvement of “key office-holders” in facilitating such dealings raises the issue of executive management at the Office of the Attorney General. Such issues properly belong with the Prime Minister as head of the government. Those who challenge the former SG on the basis of the lack of supporting evidence in her letter, ignore the fact that this was a letter by a public servant sent to the Prime Minister over the head of the Attorney General.

If it was meant to explore the PM’s interest in pursuing the issue, the SG had her answer when the PM sent it to the AG. From that moment, her fate as SG was sealed and she would’ve known that separation, one way or the other, was inevitable.

Mrs Donaldson-Honeywell is paying a public price for her public servant’s instinct to pussyfoot around issues that concerned her enough to seek the PM’s help. By her tentativeness, she has created room for the AG to hide and for the Prime Minister to throw her own words back at her by quoting the feint praise she penned before throwing in the towel and leaving the job. 

In his excellent tutorial on CNC3 on Friday night, my fellow columnist Martin Daly SC argued that the former SG cannot, as she seems inclined to believe, quietly walkaway into private practice having raised the hornet’s nest. She has an obligation to the public that entrusted her with high office, to speak clearly at this time and not hide behind euphemism. As everyone in this town knows, you cyar play mas and ‘fraid powder.

The Prison Officers Association is completely correct to refuse to meet the AG on this matter. Doing so will merely give legitimacy to the Prime Minister’s charade of an investigation.

For a man endowed with such X-ray vision that he could see treason and subversion of the State in the leaking of the PCA report, surely the AG has the capacity for seeing himself among the “key office-holders” referenced in Mrs Donaldson-Honeywell’s letter. How many “key office-holders” could there be of relevance to this particular case? Willful blindness will not help him. His report is an already doomed exercise whose future is destined to be something to wave on the Partnership platform. We need not waste energy on it. Instead, given the truculence of the PM and AG in this matter, let’s focus on our options: What can we, the people, do when the Executive refuses to act in line with public opinion?

No constitutional reform would be worth the paper it is written on if it does not provide a constitutional answer to this question.

As it stands now, the public’s only recourse is to protest and march, raising the political temperature with consequences unknown.

What we need in this case, as we needed in the matter of the Cordner-led ‘Flying Squad’, or Section 34 or the Reshmi matter, is a workable constitutional provision through parliament for holding the Executive- the PM and the rest of the cabinet- to account.

Although it arrived at some conclusion about the role of the Minister of National Security in the “Flying Squad” issue, the PCA’s findings have to be viewed within the context that its investigative scope is confined to the actions of police officers. The validity of its conclusions in matters beyond the scope of its authority could be subject to question and challenge. Which brings us back to the opportunity in this moment: finding constitutional avenues for making power accountable to the people.

If the litigation controversy intensifies our understanding of the need, and takes us closer to a solution, then it would be well worth the energy expended in noise and contestation.