Sunday, February 18, 2018

Challenge for a whistle-blower

Express editorial logo398

Mark Fraser

Having stopped short of ordering an investigation called for by the Law Association and the Opposition Leader into a possible scam involving the Office of the Attorney Gene­ral, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has pursued the less risky path of instructing Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to meet the acting Solicitor General, the Commissioner of Prisons, the Inspector of Prisons, the Minister of Justice and the Chief State Solicitor “to address the said concerns raised and to determine the best way forward in ensuring all concerns are addressed”.

This list of functionaries, however, excludes one key figure in the whole matter. That missing personage is former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell, who last August cast herself in the role of whistle-blower by writing to Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar to raise concerns about possible collusion by certain lawyers with the aim of defrauding the State of millions of dollars in legal settlements.

Ms Donaldson-Honeywell is now in private practice, having tendered her resignation as solicitor general three months after sending her letter. The Prime Minister therefore cannot compel her to take part in this roundtable of State officials. Yet, having in this matter apparently behaved according to the highest ethical and professional standards, Ms Donaldson-Honeywell cannot now simply move on by claiming the sanctuary of private citizenship. 

For one thing, her professional approach has been sternly called to account by ranking Senior Counsel Israel Khan, who questioned the lack of “specificity” in what she sought to have investigated. Challenging on serious professional grounds her handling of the matter, Mr Khan charged that Ms Donaldson-Honeywell did not “provide reliable information to justify her letter”. 

As we noted in a previous editorial, it is untenable for Mr Ramlogan to investigate matters involving his own office. But it is also insupportable for former solicitor general Donaldson-Honeywell to not state clearly what she thinks should be investigated and why.

At the very least, she should definitively state whether the signature on the curious letter released by the Attorney General is really her own, and whether she stands by the contents above the signature. It may well be that, in the best civil-service tradition as invented by the British, she is reluctant to breach that confidentiality which is a binding principle facili­tating the public service to serve politicians who come and go, while civil servants ensure continuity of government.

However, it is also in the highest tradition of the civil service that public servants serve the welfare of the State, not the particular office-holders who govern. If, therefore, Ms Donaldson-Honeywell is convinced the State was being subverted, the same principles which led to her letter should also inform her additional testimony now that the matter has become public.