FORMER Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute chairman Victor Hart has severely criticised local lawyers and doctors, claiming that they band together to prevent lawsuits against their colleagues.
Hart also slammed the Law Association and the Medical Association, presumably the Medical Practitioners Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MPATT), though he does not mention it by name, for not speaking out on social issues, including the hunger strike by Highway Re-Route Movement leader Dr Wayne Kublalsingh.
Hart, a retired construction professional and chair of the Cabinet-appointed Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, made the comments while delivering the keynote address at the Raymond & Pierre Ltd 40th anniversary breakfast meeting held yesterday at Capital Plaza Hotel (formerly Crowne Plaza), Port of Spain.
"Where is the voice of the doctors in cases of malpractice and medical negligence and the need for affordable health care and a patient's bill of rights? Where are these voices in the matter of the Kublalsingh hunger strike now in its 16th day?" he asked rhetorically.
He also took the law fraternity to task for not being vocal on issues.
"Where is the voice of the lawyers on Section 34, or Trinidad and Tobago's ascension to the Caribbean Court of Justice, or on the acknowledged exorbitant fees being charged for legal services?"
Hart said locally there was solidarity between lawyers and medical professionals which outweighed public interest.
"That is why actions of lawyers and doctors are rarely the subject of law suits because professional colleagues close ranks in times of trouble and refuse to testify against their peers. Such role models are not one which I suggest the young professionals follow."
In his address, "The role of the local professional in T&T's post-Independence period", Hart said some of this country's professional associations were "falling short" in the post-Independence period, including in the areas of law and medicine.
"Can you recall these associations taking a stand on a public issue that was not self-serving but in the interest of the wider community? I can't," he said.
Hart noted, however, that when their members are perceived to be under threat they become "very vocal".
He contrasted this with the approach of Afra Raymond as president of the Joint Consultative Council (JCC), who was very vocal about social issues, including making an intervention in the Kublalsingh hunger strike "and hopefully to save a life".
Hart also referred to a letter to the Prime Minister calling for an end to the impasse between Kublalsingh and the Government, dated November 26 and signed by the JCC, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FITUN) and non-governmental organisations Women Working for Social Progress and the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI).
"Instead of four associations signing a letter on the Kublalsingh matter it perhaps should have been 40," he said.
He said the country was "shocked" to read about the strident criticisms of a past president of the Law Association about the incumbent president and the retort, though he did not refer to any specific issue.
"Hardly an example of exemplars and leaders of professionals which others should wish to follow," he added.