Not a cent more!

By Ralph Maraj

 Stop those new salaries. No more money for judges and parliamentarians. This is scandalous. These are among the worst underperformers in this country. They don’t deserve an additional red cent. Judges must improve the delivery of justice, and parliamentarians must deal with our stagnant economy, decaying society, and the massive waste, corruption and mismanagement in this country. No more money unless they perform. 

Our economy is in trouble. Economist Dhanayshar Mahabir agrees. Revenue will continue depressed from a global glut in shale oil and gas. The president of Petrotrin sees the “devastating effect’’ of this on refineries in the hemisphere. Our petrochemicals are also severely threatened. The Financial Times reports US chemical exports will soon rise 45 per cent,  that European exporters have already announced job cuts and plant closures and now there is “a real fight to the death” in petrochemical markets. It all means our budget deficits will increase, the country’s debt will grow and everybody will need to adjust.

But our leaders are set to further fatten themselves! This is so indecent!  None should let the name of Nelson Mandela again pass their lips. I knew Kamla and Keith would return from his funeral, uninspired. Neither will demonstrate leadership and refuse the salary increase. Where is the compassion?  Is sacrifice just a word? Will they ever heed Pope Francis who recently said  “huge salaries and bonuses are symptoms of an economy based on greed and inequality ” and a nation should narrow the gap between rich and poor. Instead our leaders will widen the divide with these vulgar salary increases. Was it just an expensive joy ride to South Africa?

So the Chief Justice better understand. The deep disgust will not be alleviated by his acceptance that the judiciary is guilty of slackness. Nor will be we assuaged by promises to improve. We have heard that before, but have had four years and no judgment in the Pitman case!  So instead of childish conspiracy talk, man up and deliver, before receiving any new salary.

Why has the Administration of Justice Act, intended to unclog the system, not been implemented, abolishing preliminary inquiries in some cases, sending them straight to the High Court, saving time and money. Why are we not fully employing Alternative Dispute Resolution increasingly utilised by many countries preventing thousands of disputes from clogging their courts. Doesn’t our judiciary agonise over the hundreds of young, accused of minor offences, many of them possibly innocent, growing old and rotting in remand?  Brutality, degradation and dehumanisation take place every day and night under state supervision in our prisons! Didn’t the Chief Justice himself say “the economic and social consequences of incarcerating large numbers of our youth for possession and consumption of small amounts of marijuana are immense”? What have you been doing about it, Your Honour? And where are the voices of religion, labour, social and business organisations? Do we have real civil society here?

Compare our system with America and see our condition. As illustration, Terrence Farrell referenced Ariel Castro, arrested in May 2013 for kidnapping and abuse of three young women and by July 2013, he was sentenced to life. Bernie Madoff has already spent five years in jail and Rod Blagojevich, former governor  of Illinois was indicted in April 2009 and convicted in August 2010. Eduardo Hillman and Ronald Birk who, along with Steve Fergusson and Ish Galbaransingh were part of the Piarco Airport enquiry, were tried, jailed and have already served their seven-year sentences, but “Ish’’ and Steve are only now proceeding to trial in the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago. And the simple assault case of Machel Montano took five years to be concluded.  Shame, shame, shame!

To be fair, the judiciary is not entirely guilty. The entire criminal justice system is shambolic. There are delays at every point, from arrest straight up to sentencing. We have frequent adjournments because of “sick’’ attorneys or “sick’’ witnesses; non-appearance of accused in court; the cessation of trials because of procedural or constitutional motions that go straight up to the Privy Council; evidence and files that go missing. Even before a trial begins we have delays from weak investigative capacity of the police and an undermanned Office of the DPP.

What have our parliamentarians been doing about the criminal justice system? Nothing! But now they lick their chops for more money. We have an utterly worthless political class in Trinidad and Tobago! They all voted for section 34- Government, Opposition and Independents—for which they should all have resigned in ignominy. Instead they want more money. What has this government done to diversify our economy, reduce crime, improve accountability and efficiency, prevent thievery of the treasury, modernise health care and education, stimulate agriculture?  Not one blessed thing.  And what has the Opposition said or done to persuade the citizenry they can take the country forward? They are salivating over getting into power but what will they do in office?  How will they revolutionise governance and restructure the economy, the two most critical issues facing the country? They have said not a word, and in this amazing place, few call on them to state their position.

But they are silent because they have no answers. All they could produce to improve parliament are laughable recommendations to reduce speaking time, and some toothless committee with neither power nor resources to meet its mandate. And they emerged with this triteness after deepest deliberations with the Government and Speaker! 

Behold the wondrous cranial capacity of the Parliament, the whole bankrupt shebang. And these people want more money, some even saying the increases are not enough. Shameless! Get away. Not a cent more unless you do your job.


• Ralph Maraj, is a playwright, and former government minister

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