Sunday, February 18, 2018

Political devil mas

Martin Daly logo56

Mark Fraser

 The contents of last Sunday’s newspapers were particularly hard to digest. 

First there was the irony of my fellow columnist and non-lawyer, Sunity Maharaj, advising us not to abandon due process out of the current high fear and frustration while, the day before, the judiciary and some leading lawyers in the presence of the political executive, had been advocating the abolition of juries and further inroads into the rules against hearsay. 

The Evidence Act has been amended several times over the last ten years or so, but there has been no appreciable improvement in detection and conviction rates.  We must have been doing something else inadequately before we get to the stage of presenting evidence to a court. It is difficult therefore to see how more dilutions in what is credible evidence will help us.

The use of juries is a deep subject but an informed public may not readily accept trial by judge alone when public distrust of institutions and appointments procedures is at an all time high. 

At the same time the assertion that the PNM have sympathisers planted in the Public Service to frustrate non PNM governments was still under discussion.

Perhaps we should connect the dots. We could put ourselves on the road to convicting a public servant of an offence of political insubordination on the basis that some Minister heard from a political zealot that public servant X was a PNM. In fact any public servant might be convicted of political treason on the basis of hearsay about alleged links whichever Government is in power.

I feel strongly that the goal of efficient objective justice cannot be achieved by shortcuts. Measured reforms that accurately reflect the country’s underlying resources are unarguably preferable to shortcuts. My attention then turned to the increased pension rights for ministers and ordinary parliamentarians, which the House of Representatives unanimously passed late last Friday night and with little prior notice to the public.  

The reports that Doctors Moonilal and Rowley were together kissy kissy about money for their batch and preceding batches, when both sides cooperate on little else, was interesting to say the least. 

There is a good case for providing decent pensions and other terminal benefits for parliamentarians.  Dr Moonilal made that case well but the late night manoeuvre has not succeeded in covering up a major flaw in what the parliamentarians voted for themselves and another institutional lack of diligence, this time on the part of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC), the constitutional body responsible for reviewing salaries and conditions of service of, among others, judges ministers and parliamentarians.

The major flaw is this:  The allowances paid to parliamentarians have been aggregated with their basic salary to arrive at the pension figure.  This is plainly wrong because allowances are provided to defer expenses incurred while in a job. They should not be carried forward in perpetuity.  An inequity will also arise when one looks at other arms of the Public Service from whose pension calculations allowances are excluded except for a portion of housing allowance.

Moreover, as fellow columnist, Clarence Rambharat has explained, without knowing what salary and other revisions the SRC might make, the pensions package represents an unknown future cost.  

To be fair to Dr Rowley he did recognise the sloth of the SRC in his contribution. It might be fair to say that the parliamentarians should wait no longer on a less than diligent SRC. The problem with that is that not all affected persons have the advantage of a remedy in their own hands. There may also be a question of constitutional propriety if the SRC abdicates its constitutional responsibilities in relation to the terms and conditions of the judges.

The CyberCrime Bill was another troubling topic.  

E-mails have become a constant source of embarrassment for politicians and they do not want them seen. The irony here is that last Tuesday was the fortieth anniversary of the Watergate break in, which ultimately brought down President Nixon and also taught the entire world that we cannot blindly entrust power to any fellow human being.

Woodward and Bernstein tracked down the real significance of the burglary into the Democratic headquarters at Watergate at a time when the Republicans held the White House. The reporters were dependent on leaks and on one main inside source code.

Many leaks are good for democracy and are checks against the abuse of power. This is now accepted and is reflected in whistleblower legislation.

What I can glean from the proposed cybercrime legislation is that unauthorised receipt of an e-mail may be a crime and investigation of it may lead to seizure of the suspect’s computer. If that is so, journalists will be in serious jeopardy as will be exposure of abuse of power, such as a Watergate.

It looks like the devil of cover-up will play a big mas but so much devil mas done playing big already.