Talking Loud and Saying Nothing
By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 24, 2015
Part of the glory of being a Trinbagonian is that someone always arises in our time of need. These are people who always place the needs of country before self, our communal health before blind egotism, and truth before falsification. On May 21, for yet another time, Sebastian Ventour, deputy chairman of the Integrity Commission and one of our distinguished citizens, rejected conformity to reaffirm the sterling quality of our personhood.
Justice Ventour's with self-effacing modesty, uttered a simple truth: "When I took my oath the last thing I would have thought I would be part of any statement that would mislead the public of Trinidad and Tobago. I want no part of it." He believed one could not say a matter is completed when there are other related matters and persons to be investigated. Moreover, the head of a commission cannot issue a statement that purports to represent the commission when the deputy chairman has not even seen it. Such an action smacks of disrespect and violates the normal courtesies colleagues extend to one another.
With unblushing honesty, Justice Ventour continued saying that a committee that exercises surveillance over public life and serves in a capacity of trust must be beyond suspicion. An integrity committee should not be wanting in integrity. It cannot and should not tell a lie. Therefore, I will take no part in lying to the nation.
Contrast Justice Ventour's behavior with that of Justice Zainool Hosein, the chairman of the Integrity Commission. When the members of the society asked that he respond to what seemed to be a troubling situation, especially when Dr. Keith Rowley, the Leader of the Opposition, was expelled from the Parliament because of this issue, the only thing Justice Hosein could offer was, "I've done nothing wrong."
And he may be right. But when the press, usually described as the Fourth Estate because of the important function it plays in keeping the nation informed, asked him to explain his actions, he declared: "I feel I was in some lynch mob. This is not right."
The choice of words is unfortunate. The press, in pursuit of its legitimate function, is described as a "mob," which most dictionaries define as "a disorderly or riotous crowd of people" or "a crowd bent or engaged in lawless violence." As far as I can tell, the members of the press did not display any of those characteristics. They were trying to understand what transpired and why.
Justice Hosein did not see it that way. He felt harassed. Therefore, he affirmed: "I am going to protest this. I am going to report this to the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago."
But this is not an issue for the Media Association. Rather, the public, citizens of a democratic society, wish to have a clear-cut answer from the protagonists involved. Hiding behind legalese is not an option. Justice Hosein cannot hide in the shadows while he evades the substance of the issue.
A commission does not operate in a vacuum as though it possesses a truth unto itself. Truth itself is an attempt to bridge the gap between "what is" and "what ought to be." We arrive at truth through dialogue and discourse. For us to grasp the truth, Justice Hosein must tell us what he knows.
The Integrity Commission is a body that was created and given life and vitality by the public. In order to carry out its function the public must trust it. To the degree that the public refuses to accept its impartiality it is to that degree that it ceases to exist in any meaningful sense. The commission and its members are ultimately responsible to us as citizens. When it loses our trust and confidence, it is of no use to society.
The commission does not belong to the commissioners. It belongs to the ordinary citizens who give it its meaning and its validity. Therefore, it is accountable to us. If the chairman of the commission does not believe he has any obligation to the public, then he is in the wrong business. He may still carry the title of chairman, but then he would simply be talking loud and saying nothing.
Justice Hosein is not a Caesar unto himself. Ultimately, he receives his authority from the citizens of this nation which is why Justice Ventour was pitch perfect when he legitimized his position by collapsing his truth into the bosom of his fellow citizens when he insisted he would take no part in misleading the nation.
Selwyn R. Cudjoe is a professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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