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Justice and fairness

December 31, 2000
By Selwyn R. Cudjoe

KAMAL PERSAD and his cohorts have criticised Ken Valley and the PNM for condemning the EBC’s failure to properly supervise the election and thereby validate its only legitimate function: the guarantee of a free and fair election.

Mary King of the Transparency Commission was categorical. She noted: “The EBC in refusing to participate in condemning the fraudulent activities of the two candidates who had perjured themselves” and “in hiding behind legal technicalities, has destroyed the aura of fairness.” She couldn’t be more correct.

Throwing up the spectre of Guyana or eliding the truth that there was massive illegal voting does not help. Also, it did not help when the AG, chief upholder of the law, and Oswald Wilson, EBC chairman and the guardian of fair voting, invited people to vote “if their names were on the Voter List”; that is, whether they were there legally or not. The PNM was not defeated in “a free and fair election”. Therefore, the integrity of the EBC and the UNC must be attacked until this unfairness is unravelled.

Constitutively, Persad and his crew are incapable of addressing issues of fairness and justice; virtues that are absent in their mental landscapes. They only throw the principle of lawfulness into our faces when it promotes their point of view. They do not understand that justice is related intimately to fairness and “the rule of law is obviously closely related to liberty”, claims that John Rawls makes in A Theory of Justice, a work that has been translated into 23 languages.

It is false to argue, as Persad does, that when PNM attacks the credibility of the EBC, it sends a message to its supporters “that there is no free and fair election in the country and government can only change by the use of unconstitutional means” (Guardian, December 26). The latter part of the proposition belongs to Persad; the PNM espouses the first. It contends that if elections are not free and fair there can be no binding social contract. If there is no social contract—that is, a shared understanding that all citizens are playing by the same rules—there can be no democracy and society unravels on its own accord. It needs no exogenous impetus to make it do so.

On December 12, over 100 PNM polling clerks and agents of the Tunapuna constituency conducted an election post-mortem. Each person believed the election was stolen and cited his/her experience to prove it. To tell them they did not see what they saw or should not believe what their rationality confirmed is a ludicrous redundancy that only Persad and his kind can dare to utter. Many patriotic citizens believe UNC stole the election and nothing will change this belief.

Therefore, the AG is not taken seriously when he thunders: “The rule of law demands that all public officials obey the Constitution, and no one is above the law.”

The law is the law when it benefits him and his people. It would have been wonderful if he had so declaimed when there were concerns about the legality of persons registered to vote in constituencies in which they do not live.

The UNC, rather than the PNM, is planting the seeds of national distrust as they try to steal the soul of the nation. In a just society, as Rawls notes, “The rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests...Being first virtues of human activities, truth and justice are uncompromising.” No pronouncement about the sanctity of the law or the attempt to score public relations points (“The PNM are sore losers”) will deflect from the primacy of the “first virtues of human activities”.

Societies possess their own internal social dynamic. If you steal an election, persons on both sides of the political divide know it. In so doing, you set up a social climate in which stealing elections, corrupting public officials, awarding tainted contracts to cronies become a way of life. After a while, these illegal viruses begin to corrode the internal social organs to a point where the people themselves—Indians and Africans—turn against the injustice of such a system.

A just society advances the good of its members and is “effectively regulated by a public conception of justice”. In such a society “everyone accepts and knows that the others accept the same principles of justice”. Whatever their disputes, citizens believe their claims will be adjudicated fairly thereby making their association secure. Thus, it is that “among individuals with disparate aims and purposes a shared conception of justice establishes the bonds of civic friendship...One may think of a public conception of justice as constituting the fundamental charter of a well-ordered human association”.

Edward Hart wept when he heard the election results. He knew he was robbed. He mused: “I have been a sportsman all my life. If I am beaten fair and square it’s all right. To be robbed, is something else.” In his own way, he reflected a fundamental insight about social justice. He understood that rules, even of a game, are addressed to rational persons in order to give shape and consistency to their activities. Once one enters into these arrangements, there arises a basis for legitimate expectations. Hart was crushed because the Tunapuna results do not constitute the “legitimate expectations” of the people nor a fair expression of their will.

When Valley attacked the EBC he founded his claims upon the principles of truth, fairness and justice, the only bases upon which a well-ordered society can be preserved. In his Second Treatise on Government, John Locke argued that conquest or violence gives no right, no matter how much they are coloured with “the name, pretences, or forms of law.” One day Persad and his cohorts will realise that truth matters, social justice is a primary virtue and a conception of public morality is necessary to preserve social cohesion. They may sustain us even in the darkest days.

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