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Raffique Shah


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Manning owes Panday a puja

By Raffique Shah
March 11, 2007

One cannot help but look on with disbelief at the meanderings in the matter involving the State and Chief Justice Sat Sharma. Last Monday, this messy affair that has staggered like the proverbial drunk, from Sharma's home to the Magistrates' Courts, from midnight hearings in a judge's chambers to the hallowed halls of the Privy Council, finally collapsed in the drain of the magistracy. And the person who helped take it there, however plausible his explanations may be, was Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls.

What does the public, the ordinary "Johns" and "Janes" in the society, see? A Chief Justice accused of perverting the course of justice. A Chief Magistrate who made the original complaint that set off this entire mess, finally take the witness stand-only to demean himself like some gang-related witness by refusing to testify. Then there is Prime Minister Patrick Manning, caught in the slips of this game. His several actions to have the CJ removed from office, whether or not they may have foundation, look like persecution, not prosecution. And Attorney General John Jeremie, another key player, having to go on the defensive to the extent that he cannot even muster a "leg-bye" far less a "boundary".

The average citizen is reduced to thinking that the highest office-holders in this country are a bunch of jokers, incompetents. It is one thing to have just about every murder case that comes before the courts collapse; to see known criminals say one thing on oath, then deny it at the critical point in the witness stand; and then to watch murderers, kidnappers, rapists and robbers smirk as they walk out of court, defeating the judicial system. Such scenes tempt law-abiding people to become lawless since that seems the only way to get by in this sewer of a society.

But it's quite a spectacle when similar behaviour is exhibited by those who hold the highest offices in the country. To begin with the CJ, unless Manning is a madman and McNicolls an unholy crook, does seem to owe the country an explanation for statements and actions he is alleged to have made or taken during this affair. One might well say that the PM is vindictive, that none who crosses his path escapes unscathed. When Basdeo Panday was PM, he said as much. So maybe this trait goes with the office. Still, at some point, if he wants to vindicate himself, to restore the respect the society held for him, Sharma must prove to the public that he never tried to influence certain judicial proceedings. He might say that he was about to do that when McNicolls scuttled the opportunity. But we can only know the truth when this issue is finally resolved-if it ever is.

McNicolls, too, must either put up or shut up. And I do not mean doing this by staying silent in a court. I wonder what he would have done if a judicial officer had appeared in his court and behaved the way he did in Magistrate Lianne Lee Kim's. Knowing his history, McNicolls might have consigned the person-magistrate, judge or high office-holder-into the "slammer", if only for a few days.

Yet he showed little respect for Lee Kim or for Deputy DPP Carla Brown-Antoine. He chose instead to assume a judicial role in the witness stand, not bothering with the maxim: an attorney who has himself for a client has a fool representing him (or something to that effect). I don't see how he can now extricate himself from this sordid matter since hearings at a tribunal, if that ever comes around, are held in camera.

And PM Manning comes across as a persecutor, as a bitter man who is hounding the CJ for no reason other than his ethnicity. This is what people on the ground believe, what is being hammered into their minds by the opposition parties. Manning must know that in politics, perception becomes truth. Now, even though he may eventually advise the President to appoint a tribunal, and assuming the tribunal rules against the CJ, the public, which will not have heard the evidence, will be none the wiser. So his stigma as a racist will stick.

All of this in an election year: that's not good news for Manning. Because as divided as our people may be, partitioned by wild ranting from political platforms and whispering in private places, they hold dearly the separation of powers. They do not want their PM interfering with the police or the army or the judiciary. Do what you will with ministers. But do not touch independent office holders.

Manning must hold a puja in praise of Panday. Because were it not for Bas, the ultimate mash-up man, there might well emerge a united opposition. And wealth and prosperity notwithstanding, the PNM would likely find itself in the cold, swept away by a tidal wave of discontent. Om Shanti.