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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Dragging every issue into the 'race pit'" - Raffique Shah, 20-Feb-2005

I've been searching the 'Net for historical articles on the UNC's own record of conflict with the Judiciary, with particular emphasis on their attempted impeachment of former Chief Justice Michael de la Bastide, something that a caller on the radio yesterday took time to remind listeners. Eventually, I came across a page at the International Commission of Jurists website. Dated August 27th, 2002 and captioned "Attacks on Justice 2002 - Trinidad and Tobago", there are an interesting few paragraphs under the sub-caption, "Conflicts between the Government and the judiciary", and I strongly recommend a read, particularly given the fact that the article refers to attempts by the then Attorney General to legislate away the independence of the Judiciary.

According to the article [Emphasis mine]:
The political ramifications emanating from the judicial independence conflict became all the more serious in March 2001 when Attorney General Maharaj threatened legislation to fire judges for not delivering judgements with sufficient dispatch, stating that "if a judicial officer cannot give a judgement within a given time frame he must be considered incompetent and the Constitution should provide for his removal, as the justice system must not accommodate incompetent and inefficient judicial officers". Further undermining public confidence in Trinidadian judicial institutions, the strongest warning for the judiciary to bow at the feet of the executive was delivered by Prime Minister Panday, when he assured UNC supporters that his government would defend itself "with full force" against judicial meddling in governmental affairs. This concerted effort by the government to erode judicial independence and de-legitimise and stigmatise the judiciary seems to stem from allegations by the UNC that the judiciary is biased in its treatment of the Indian-supported political party. Unfortunately, in calling into question the legitimacy of the judiciary's work, the Trinidadian executive has effectively pitted authoritarian political party and racial group interests against the activities of an independent adjudicative system, which hinders the latter's ability to render substantive justice.
Given the historical record, what we seem to be seeing therefore is a case of "do so ent like so", to wax colloquial. Approaching Chief Justice Sharma, advising him of allegations made, and asking him to step down quietly given the allegations and supporting evidence presented to the Prime Minister for onward transmission to the President, is now being touted in the court of public opinion by various societal leaders (I can no longer refer to many of them as "eminent" in good conscience) as an all-out and racial attack on the entire Judiciary. And this because the feeling, it would seem, is that because we know what we try to do, they must be doing it too. The response by various parties supporting the CJ is akin to the intense and almost insane jealousy that a spouse that is horning their partner feels when they suspect that their own significant other is doing the same to them. Imagination becomes reality even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.

Further examination of search results on the UNC's record turned up another article, written by Raffique Shah, from which my own caption today is derived. Written on February 20th, 2005 and posted to his own website at http://www.trinicenter.com/Raffique/2005/Feb/202005.htm, Mr. Shah's article begins:
My attorney friend, who could pass for Indian in this callaloo society of ours, said to me in a very serious manner: We are fast approaching the point where, once you are an Indian, you can get away with anything, crime included. All you need to do, he added, is "bawl race" and you could steal, murder, do whatever, and if the police dare touch you, cry out "Race! Is because ah is ah Indian!" I later reflected on what he had said to me and realised that it might be perception, but in our daily lives, as in politics, perception becomes the truth.

...Sharma is not being targeted because he is Indian, but because of certain other issues that have a bearing on the quality of justice being meted out. Instead of allowing the matter to take its natural course, which is what Prime Minister Patrick Manning is doing, Panday and many others in this country are "bawling race". Race my foot! It is time Indians-and other ethnic groups-wake up and smell the race pit we are being dragged into, by our own.
With Mr. Shah's article as prelude, Dr. Selwyn Cudjoe, in February 2005, presented a lecture on issues of allegations against the Chief Justice's, dishonesty and deception in his defence, and race, religion and equality before the law in Trinidad & Tobago. Here, he dissects and analyses statements made to that time from various quarters, statements that to date have still not changed. Of many of the statements made, Dr. Cudjoe states:
Not only are these damn lies and needless sophistries. They reveal a mind that has a constitutional inability to distinguish between truth and falsity; a mind that is capable of being arranging any set of factoids to achieve any deceptive end.

...we must be aware that certain elements in our society are playing a dangerous game with the nation's psyche: they claim that Indians are under attack and that all of us must bend our backs over backward to accommodate their wishes. The trick is simple. If they claim that the whole society has ganged up to deny them their just rights, then all of us have to be on guard and the benefit of the doubt must always go to the Indian. The trick is this: if you claim racial discrimination long and loud enough then the whole chorus of the media begins to do the dirty work that Sat Maharaj and his boys have been doing.
It is a well-researched piece supported by facts, whether or not one agrees with Dr. Cudjoe's politics, showing clearly that facts are not available to support racial allegations made in several quarters.

It is sad though that these are the depths to which the country has descended.

It is sadder still that many right-thinking people in the country either say nothing, try to ignore and hope that it goes away, or only very quietly dissent. The fact is that the madness is not going away as long as it can continue to be used a power play.

A line needs to be drawn, and it needs to be drawn now. There is no good that can come out of the hate and devisiveness being espoused by various political and quasi-political bodies. It's no longer two half-drunk men in a rumshop, one shouting unreasonably, when they diasgree on some point of debate, "yuh racial or wha'?!" It is being used, without hope of appropriate response, in the highest corridors of power.

Trinidadians and Tobagonians have lived too well together for too long to be split like this for the sake of ascendance and empowerment of a few.

People of other ethnic stock must be careful though to not respond in kind. If it is not right for one side, it is defintely not right for any other. In fact, Dr. Cudjoe says it best in his piece.
We [must] insist that no one is above the law and demand that Justice [and good sense] must be allowed to prevail. We [must] not be intimidated by the noises and false positions of those whose only concerns are those of their group rather than the welfare of the country. It must not be said that an Indian cannot be trusted with the sacred responsibilities of the direction of the State. They must be encouraged to assume their Tribagonianness and to understand that here, in this country, every creed and race find an equal place. None is better than the other; none is above the law; and with the help of the powers above and those around us, let us all proclaim the brotherhood of man and the desire to reduce the relevance of ethnicity and religion when we make decisions about what is in the best interest of the State.

Friday, July 21, 2006

An Interesting Read on the CJ and the UNC...

I've always enjoyed reading BC Pires. His regular column, "Thank God It's Friday", was something that I'd looked forward to every week growing up, entertained and informed by his jocular and poignant take on the nation's and extra-national affairs. It was peculiar vision that drew us one year to invite him to speak at a UWI Guild function. And there, in what would seem to be typical fashion, he began his address drawing a chuckle from the gathered crowd, indicating at the outset that he didn't know why people felt that he could speak just because he writes. His address though was, as his column is, very insightful and on that night, inspiring.

Today's issue of the Trinidad Express features BC's regular "Thank God It's Friday" column, under the caption, "UNC or CJ?"

I highly recommend a read of this Friday's piece which begins:
It's becoming kind of interesting to see which will fall apart first, the UNC or the CJ. You kind of want to bet on the UNC, still the putative Opposition party (at least up to press time last night) because there are so many people tugging at the little that remains of it, it really ought to have been torn apart long ago.
Having drawn your chuckle, or at least raised your eyebrow, the rest of what he has to say is quite discerning.

[BC's column for Friday 21st June is at http://www.trinidadexpress.com/index.pl/article_opinion?id=160985808]

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Section 137 of the Constitution states...

The full text of the Constitution of Trinidad & Tobago is available for download from the Trinidad & Tobago Parliament web site at http://parliament.gov.tt/docs/constitution/ttconst.pdf.

The Constitution is also in print once again and hardcopy is available from the Government Printery at a cost of 50 dollars.

Section 137 of the Constitution, REMOVAL FROM OFFICE OF JUDGE, reads as follows. [Emphasis mine throughout]
1. A Judge may be removed from office only for inability to perform the functions of his office, (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause), or for misbehaviour, and shall not be so removed except in accordance with the provisions of this section.

2. A Judge shall be removed from office by the President where the question of removal of that Judge has been referred by the President to the Judicial Committee and the Judicial Committee has advised the President that the Judge ought to be removed from office for such inability or for misbehaviour.

3. Where the Prime Minister, in the case of the Chief Justice, or the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, in the case of a Judge, other than the Chief Justice, represents to the President that the question of removing a Judge under this section ought to be investigated, then-

a. the President shall appoint a tribunal, which shall consist of a chairman and not less than two other members, selected by the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister in the case of the Chief Justice or the Prime Minister after consultation with the Judicial and Legal Service Commission in the case of a Judge, from among persons who hold or have held office as a judge of a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court;

b. the tribunal shall enquire into the matter and report on the facts thereof to the President and recommend to the President whether he should refer the question of removal of that Judge from office to the Judicial Committee; and

c. where the tribunal so recommends, the President shall refer the question accordingly.

4. Where the question of removing a Judge from office has been referred to a tribunal under subsection (3), the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister in the case of the Chief Justice or the Chief Justice in the case of a Judge, other than the Chief Justice, may suspend the Judge from performing the functions of his office, and any such suspension may at any time be revoked by the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister in the case of the Chief Justice or the Chief Justice in the case of a Judge, other than the Chief Justice, and shall in any case cease to have effect-

a. where the tribunal recommends to the President that he should not refer the question of removal of the Judge from office to the Judicial Committee; or

b. where the Judicial Committee advises the President that the Judges ought not to be removed from office.

The process for impeachment of a judge, specifically, the Chief Justice, reads fairly clearly, in that:
  1. The Prime Minister refers a report of misbehaviour to the President.
  2. The President calls a tribunal of eminent judges to investigate the allegation.
  3. The tribunal gets back to the President with the results of their investigation and, if necessary, a recommendation.
  4. Where necessary, the matter is either handled immediately, or taken to the Judicial Committee.
  5. If suspension of the judge is required, it is at the President's discretion to revoke the suspension, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister.
In the current case, the Prime Minister has been blocked by injunction from approaching the President with any allegation, if I understand correctly, of misbehaviour by the Chief Justice.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I'm concerned about justice in Trinidad & Tobago...

I'm worried about the justice system in the country, but not for the reasons that most people seem to be in the press and other public forums. Of course I'm worried about a number of things that other people are worried about, like the ability to legally block arrest, but there's something else that concerns me when I look at the situation with the Chief Justice more holistically.

When we look at what is in play at present, I can see two camps that have forming in our judicial system - those who are for the Chief Justice and those who believe that he is to be removed.

Those for the Chief Justice are the ones that have been the most vocal over time, making assertions and allegations about assault on the Constitution and the Judiciary. Joining that camp are persons with political, religious and racial agendas, or combinations of the three in some cases. They now claim that the removal of the Chief Justice is moved by one or more of those three motivations - politics, race or religion.

Tune out all of the noise though and we have the facts that very eminent members of the judiciary and in legal practice have come forward independently to make two different sets of allegations against the Chief Justice. One involves his alleged interference in the Narayansingh Murder Trial and the other his alleged interference in the Basdeo Panday Intergrity Trial.

Now I'm sure that in a different place and space, the Chief Justice for the integrity of the Office alone, would have stepped down. But not so in a country where "Honourable Member of Parliament" and "Honourble Justice" seems to be quickly joining laughable local oxymorons like "Police Intelligence" and "TSTT service". Instead, the Chief Justice obtained a stay, issued by one of his juniors to block, the Prime Minister from approaching the President with the allegations until the matter can be reviewed. I've posted separately the details of how the process of impeachment of a judge or Chief Justice is to work according to the Constitution. Section 137 of the Constitution - Removal from Office of a Judge - has been oft cited but little quoted.

In the second matter, that of the Basdeo Panday Integrity Trial, the Police investigated, and between them and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions have determined that there is a criminal charge that can be made against the man, Satnarine Sharma, for attemtpting to pervert the course of public justice. Again, the Chief Justice has applied for an obtained a stay from one of his juniors that, eventually after several amendments, prevents any member of the service from arresting him to face the charge.

What concerns me here is the vehemence of the defence of the man, Satnarine Sharma, by leading members of the judiciary and the legal profession, even as others quietly stand in support of the prosecution effort.

People have spoken broadly and made much noise about an alleged Governemt attack on the Judiciary. But I fear that what we really have going on is a Judicial attack on the law and the Constitution that stands at its core. In the first instance, the natural course of the very Constitution is blocked, and in the second, the ability of the Police to do their work is stymied.

What is even more disconcerting is one question that keeps arising in my mind. And that is the question of what a lawyer or judge has to gain from supporting and having in office a Chief Justice that is alleged to have attempted to pervert the course of justice, and for which in both sets of allegations to date, evidence exists to support the charges. Why should a judge deemed to be of incorrect stance not face justice themselves? There's provision for it in the Constitution. There is even the benefit of facing a panel of peers, I assume to be able to spout all the legalese that is necessary and still be clearly understood. But why the difference in stance between those who readily quote law and cite the Constitution, and those who impugn racial and political motivation for impeachment and arrest?

There's already the perception in the country that there is one law for the wealthy and one for the rest of us. There is also the perception that corruption exists at the highest levels of society. But does the battle to keep a tainted judicial official in office, and the highest seated judicial official at that, now raise questions about the dispensers of justice?

In a country where it is said that the major economic driver after oil and gas is the drug trade, crime is rampant, and man has lost respect for his fellow man, should the Judiciary, and even if just the Judiciary, not at least seem to be completely above reproach? Should the public not be left with that impression and small comfort instead of having to face the reality of having a Chief Justice roundly and robustly defended in the face of startling allegations?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

And as we cast our eyes back home...

Now that the World Cup is over, Italy having won and Zinadine Zidane having eloquently expressed the frustration of the French with a butt and a short right jab, we can try to turn our attention home again.

Between our Warriors' homecoming and Sunday's final, stadia and community grounds are being renamed in their honour, and players from Trinidad & Tobago are being given more serious looks by European club teams. Kenwyne Jones has indicated that his new fans had better be on the lookout for him in the new season at Southampton, several club teams are said to be interested in standout players like Chris Birchall, Jason Scotland and Densill Theobald, Carlos Edwards is said to have caught the attention of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, and goalkeeper Kelvin Jack has signed on with English First Division team, Gillingham. Finally, Leo Beenhakker has now signed on with the Polish national team to take them to Euro Cup 2008, and his assistant Wim Rijsbergen has accepted the position of head coach of the national senior football team for four years through 2010. Fear not though, because according to the terms of the agreement documented by Jack Warner, Coach Leo will continue to work with Team Trinidad & Tobago as a special advisor on an as-needs basis and could be back on board in full after 2008.

Turning attention now to regional and domestic sport, the Stanford 20/20 Cricket Tournament got underway yesterday with two games at the Stanford Cricket Ground in Antigua. In Match 1, the US Virgin Islands got past St. Maarten by 48 runs, and advance to play St. Vincent & the Grenadines on July 18th. In Match 2, the Cayman Island beat the Bahamas, and they will advance to meet Trinidad & Tobago on July 25th.

The full match schedule is available at the Stanford 20/20 Cricket Tournament website and Cricinfo.com is carrying live online commentary.

For readers who use Google Calendar, you can click on the button below to add the match schedule to your personal calendars.

For those who still have the football bug, the Trinidad & Tobago Professional Football League resumed competition yesterday with matches at four venues. And if the match schedules read right, there's a lot of football to be played all over the country from now until December.

After 11 rounds, just three points separate top-of-the-table North East Stars on 25 from fourth placed W Connection on 22. Joe Public and San Juan Jabloteh are tied on 23, but Jabloteh has a game in hand. By way of note, national senior team players Aurtis Whitley and Anthony Wolfe both start for San Juan Jabloteh.

It's important that we not only follow but support local and regional sport, even if it's to ride and deride players for not doing as well as we know they can.

In the former case, the visible support lets the young people know that we're there for them to cheer them on. In the latter, it let's them know that we care enough to get upset about sub-par performance. Both reactions help to boost players' performance and confidence because they know that they have more than just themselves and their team mates to play for. Riding with them is the spirit of a community.

A classic example of this spirit is seen in the community around the Malick Senior Comprehensive School. Malick entered the Secondary School Football League a number of years ago on the back of a very talented young team. The school and their success was embraced by the Malick Barataria neighbourhood who now travel with their team to their games during the school season. Malick is never without school and neighbourhood support, no matter where they go. And no matter what the quality of the team or the players in a particular year, the community support buoys them on because they play for more than the enjoyment of the game and for themselves; they represent the pride of their neighbourhood.

Such was the reason, I'm sure, that the Trinidad & Tobago national senior team played the way that they did. Not only were they on stage for themselves, playing on the grandest platform of their careers, but they played for Trinbagonian Pride. And we were there, visibly and vocally, to cheer them on.

If really we want to make it to South Africa in 2010, that visible and vocal support needs to continue here at home. And "Home" doesn't translate to friendly international matches and zonal qualifiers alone either, but also includes domestic club games and school football. The players don't only play big international matches. Many, like Whitley and Wolfe, play their ball and earn their pay right here at home. And I'm certain that there will be at least one standout player in the schools' league starting in September that will feature in Trinidad & Tobago's qualifiers for South Africa, so the schools' football requires a look-see too.

According to the PFL match schedule, there are at least three sets of matches per week across the country, most starting after four in the afternoon. Schools' football starts soon too, and their matches are generally after four in the afternoon as well. Instead of heading into traffic or straight home immediately after work, it could be a good idea to kill some time in town or wherever you are and take in a PFL or a schoolboy - or schoolgirl - game. It's worth noting at this point that Malick and Providence, if memory serves, have also produced formidable girls' teams in recent years. Saturday games also provide a decent opportunity for an afternoon outing with friends and family to lend support to a community team. I'm fairly certain that the players will appreciate seeing new faces, and faces other than their own family and close friends, in the stands.

So having worn red and flown flags on our vehicles, let's bring that ardour home and support our sportsmen and women. Show the sporting associations, NGOs and Ministry of Sport that we're serious about our young (and old!) sportspeople - footballers, cricketers, netballers and basketballers, tennis, squash and badminton players, table tennis enthusiasts, sprinters and distance runners, field athletes, swimmers, checkers and dominoes champions, all competitive athletes - by being out there with them. You just might find that you get an entertaining afternoon or two out of the effort.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Video Tribute to our Warriors...

Someone going by the tag huaidan83 on Youtube.com has as the only video in his library a most touching tribute to the Trinidad & Tobago team that went to the FIFA World Cup 2006. At time of writing, it had already been viewed some 1,500 times. It's moving, jaw-dropping, tear-jerking... add your own "-ing".

Watch the clip - it's about seven and a half minutes long - and then go to huaidan83's profile at Youtube.com and send him your thanks.

Friday, July 07, 2006

More from FIFA...

The blog will be back in full swing with all its social bent as soon as this distraction that is the World Cup is over.

But on the topic of the World Cup, I'm sure that all Trinidadians & Tobagonians will remember June 15th, 2006, the day that the country's national football team was robbed again by unfair play. It will join November 1989 and December 1973 as a sad day in our sporting annals.

We were afforded some relief when several publications reported that the referee for the Trinidad & Tobago versus England match, Japan's Toru Kamikawa, may have been sanctioned permamently. (See Newsday article of June 17th, 2006).

As it turns out, not only has the referee not been sanctioned. After all the huff and guff and old talk, he's been given responsibility for the Third Place playoff match between Germany and Portugal to be held on Saturday July 8th.

I guess though that this should come as no surprise. Our own CONCACAF President and TTFF special advisor has been involved in various affairs and come out clean, as it were. He's gone from avoiding public lynching as a result of ticket over-sales in 1989, to his family being major beneficiaries of lucrative contracts in the Under-17 World Cup held here in Trinidad & Tobago in 2001, to scrutiny and possible sanction, and thence exoneration for Simpaul's Travel Agency's "exclusive ticket distribution" for Germany 2006. Not only did he get off, but the TTFF was awarded with more tickets than the original allocation.

But then not everybody seems to meet FIFA's mysterious reprieve criteria. Take Botswanan FIFA executive official who was kicked out of Germany for touting. He sold 12 tickets for the Trinidad & Tobago vs. England game for three times their face value, promising more for Englands' remaining games. More recently, German midfielder Torsten Frings was suspended for a game when video footage showed that he threw a punch at Argentine Julio Cruz after the Germany vs Argentina quarter final match. And that's funny, because many video angles and still photography showed Peter Crouch using Brent Sancho's hair as a crutch to score England's first goal against Trinidad & Tobago, and other than Brent's reported disappointment, the most that was heard out of FIFA was that nothing could be done about it.

Imagine trying to explain all that in the context of fairplay to a five-year old.

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