Putting public good before private gain
The decision by Seenath Jairam SC and Joseph Toney to refuse lucrative briefs in the CLICO/Hindu Credit Union Enquiry is an all-too-rare instance of individuals putting the public good before private gain.
To be sure, it took Messrs Jairam and Toney ten days to realise that accepting this job from the Finance Ministry would undermine confidence in, respectively, the Law Association and the Congress of the People. Indeed, up to the day of his announcement, Mr Toney was on TV6's Morning Edition arguing that he was well-qualified for the job and there was nothing wrong in accepting it.
That is true in a strictly technical sense. Yet the fact that both gentlemen had to experience negative public fallout before rescinding their acceptance indicates the sorry state of our society's ethics. Here, after all, was an unexplained decision by the Finance Ministry to fire the existing legal team of Fyard Hosein SC and Michael Quamina whose work had apparently drawn no complaint, and replace them with two individuals who headed organisations which, after the Section 34 debacle, the Government might particularly wish to muzzle.
Now Toney and Jairam may well argue that mere acceptance of a Government job would not persuade them to stay silent or alter any statements they might otherwise have made. But the psychology of gift-giving is more subtle than this. Salespeople and politicians have long realised that, when you give a favour, you create obligation. This is why, even with secret ballots in a democracy, rum-and-roti politics is good strategy.
But, even if Jairam and Toney were men of such clear minds and strong moral fibre as to remain unswayed, the mere fact that they were working for the Government on such a high-profile brief would result in scepticism about any statement issued by the Law Association or the COP. To their credit, both men realised this. By listening to public opinion, and the views of their respective memberships, they came to see that their leadership responsibilities outweighed any argument that they were merely taking a job. In so doing, Mr Jairam has maintained the standing of the Law Association, while Mr Toney has restored some much-needed credibility to the COP.
Their actions should now serve as a guide to other individuals and groups in the society. Too often, outrage erupts over public issues, and there is much discussion about standards and impassioned calls for penalties. But, when it comes to the crunch, too many persons subside in order to, in the popular phrase, eat ah food. This is why politicians continue to get away with the same transgressions. And that won't change until actions like Messrs Jairam's and Toney's become commonplace.