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From bad to worse and worserer

By Michael Harris

Sometimes a particular development in our society or in our politics comes out of nowhere and smacks me like a two-by-four on the side of my head. Every time that happens the shock jolts me out of my creeping complacency and reminds me of exactly where I am, where the country is and what is happening around us.
Those readers who have stuck with me over the years would know that over the many years of writing this column I have sought to advance a particular theoretical framework to explain where we are as a society and a polity and to explain what is happening to us, the various developments which are taking place, on an ongoing basis.
In this respect I have argued that what we are witnessing and have been witnessing for a number of years now, is a systemic collapse of the institutional framework of our social order. I have also described our country as having entered into what I call the “crucible of chaos”. I used that term to describe the end-state of that process of systemic collapse.
Over the years I have described this “crucible of chaos” in a number of ways. I have described it as a set of circumstances in which we, as a people, would be subjected to forces of immense pressure which would severely test our mettle. I have stated that life in the crucible is defined by the absence of any semblance of order and rationality and we find ourselves subject to the forces of irrationality, adhocracy, indiscipline and reckless adventurism.
I have also argued that the forces and pressures which we face in the crucible could be either destructive or regenerative. Our immersion in the crucible of chaos is a necessary and critical phase in the process of our potential transformation. Indeed, it is this chaos which makes transformation possible.
But there are neither guarantees nor certainties in the crucible. We do not know how long the process of collapse and disintegration will take. We do not even know if there is an end to the process. The only thing we can know is that whether we are destroyed or we can regenerate ourselves anew is, in fact, the acid test of our capacity as a people.
I was forced to remind myself of all of this after trying to come to terms with the shocking and utterly incredible circumstances surrounding the resignation of Justice Sebastian Ventour as Deputy Chairman of the Integrity Commission.
The facts are clear. Justice Ventour resigned from the Integrity Commission on February 5. On February 6 he was sworn in by the President as a temporary puisne judge of the High Court for one day. And, on that day Justice Ventour delivered judgments in three matters which had been outstanding.
All that is left now is for the President to re-appoint Justice Ventour to the Integrity Commission.

To say that I am flabbergasted would be an understatement. But let us understand clearly what must be contemplated here. Four of the most significant and critical institutions of this country and of our social and political order, viz, the Presidency, the Judiciary, the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) and the Integrity Commission, have conspired to perpetrate a piece of sleight-of-hand to redress a grievously foolish omission that took place earlier.
The questions which arise are crystal clear. Justice Ventour retired from the Bench in 2012. Did the Chief Justice know that at the time of his retirement he had still to deliver judgements in three matters? If the Chief Justice was aware of that why did he not, at that time, arrange for Justice Ventour a temporary appointment sufficient for him to complete his judgments and deliver them?
More questions. Was the President aware in July 2013, when he appointed Justice Ventour to the Integrity Commission, that the judge still had three rulings to deliver? If the President was not so aware why did Justice Ventour not inform him? And if the President was informed was he not aware that as a member of the Integrity Commission, Justice Ventour could not, legally, perform the duties of judge of the High Court or any other public position?
Another question. Did any of the other members of the JLSC, of which the Chief Justice is a member, question the bona fides of the one-day appointment which they were being asked to make?
These questions would occur naturally to any informed citizen. But apparently, for those trained in the law, the implications of what has just been perpetrated on this country are even worse. For according to Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal, “The sequence of events suggests he was made a temporary judge only for the purpose of the delivering the judgments, which suggests that prior to his reappointment, he must have been deliberating and contemplating these judgments, which is the work of a judge”.
And as she went on to point out “That means he would have been doing that when he was a member of the commission which law does not permit a judge to sit as a one of its members”.
Do you see why this development has shocked me out of my creeping complacency and forced me to look again at the chaos? For if this does not represent the triumph of “irrationality, adhocracy, indiscipline and reckless adventurism” then I do not know what does.
My complacency is that I have come to expect such conduct from our politicians. I got caught fooling myself, however, that there were some institutions in which integrity still abided. Now I am reminded that, in the crucible of chaos, there are none.

—Michael Harris has been for many years a writer
and commentator on politics
and society in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean.
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