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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.

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