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Denis Solomon

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Crisis of confidence

By Denis Solomon
March 07, 2005

There are no constitutional experts. Not Ellis Clarke, not Selwyn Ryan, not Lloyd Best, not Denis Solomon. There are only people who think honestly, sensitively and fruitfully about politics, and those who don't. An in-built irony of our repeated constitutional "crises" is not that the non-thinkers so massively outnumber the thinkers (that is true of everything), but that all those in positions of influence belong to the first category, their political dishonesty and insensitivity being thereby exponentially increased.

In short, among our politicians there are no statesmen, nor can there be as long as the distribution of power, and access to it, are what they are. The classic Catch-22.

Sir Ellis Clarke and, it seems, much of the press see the "CJ crisis" as the result of a Constitutional shortcoming to be resolved, or at least prevented from recurring, by an amendment to the Constitution. Newsday devoted an editorial to saying so. "It is astonishing", says the writer "that after the 18-18 crisis generated such a flurry of Constitutional analysis, none of our political commentators detected this fundamental flaw. Instead, as is usually the case, it has taken a crisis for us to recognise our deficiency".

On the strength of this reasoning, all it will take for our society to achieve perfection will be a sufficient number of "crises" highlighting a sufficient number of "deficiencies" to be corrected by a sufficient number of amendments. Then we will all live happily ever after.

The hypothetical amendment, of course, is the transfer from the Prime Minister to the President of the power to initiate impeachment of the Chief Justice.

But one question suffices to put paid to Sir Ellis' idea. How many people would be happier if Max Richards were doing what Patrick Manning is doing now?

In this as in so many other cases, the dishonesty of the political establishment is illustrated by the contradictory reactions of the Leader of the Opposition. Caught on the hop by Sir Ellis' statement, which at first seemed to him to bolster his own repeated calls for (undefined) Constitutional reforms, Mr Panday announced his agreement with Sir Ellis, forgetting his own repeated references to the President as the creature (on one occasion, the "agent") of the Prime Minister, and oblivious, also, of his prior assertion that the solution lay in an American-style committee of the legislature.

This is not statesmanship but cynical and ignorant demagoguery in the service of dangerous partisan goals. Genuine Constitutional preoccupation is concern for the welfare of the body politic. For our politicians, crises are not to be addressed but to be exploited. Manning's ostentatious self-righteousness is as cynical as Panday's stridency.

The crisis is far more complicated than can be solved by any Constitutional tinkering or even root-and-branch textual reform. It is deeply political, a crisis of trust, of respect, of confidence in self and others, of profound cynicism and feelings of powerlessness. It is not in the Constitution but in us.

The danger most people claim to see is the possibility of loss of confidence in the judicial system. But who has confidence in the judicial system? When the small offender caught with a joint or a few rocks sees half the former government grinning from the front pages of the newspapers as they leave the court after a day of testimony in their interminable trials for massive embezzlement, or the former Prime Minister's expensive attorneys filing the latest Constitutional motion in what to the layman is an open and shut case of violation of integrity laws he himself put through Parliament, whose confidence in the law can remain intact?

The crisis is a crisis not only of the judicial system but of the entire society. The issues it touches range from Parliamentary codes of conduct to police reform to anti-terrorism legislation to the Caribbean Court of Justice. It has an impact on every important criminal case now and in the future.

Already it is obvious that if Abu Bakr is convicted, to many he will be a martyr, while to others an acquittal will be tantamount to certification of a parallel government based in Mucurapo. Guilt or innocence is not expected to emerge. Is the system exploited by governments to target prominent citizens of the opposite ethnic group and protect their own? Do the police and the prosecution service routinely frame people to whom the government is unsympathetic?

When the prosecution relies on plea bargaining by confessed criminals rather than thorough police investigation, and the defence is more thoroughly documented than the police, how reliable are the verdicts? Who will avenge the victims of the crimes for which immunity is granted? How is the line drawn between wiretapping for political and for security purposes? Does prosecution for murder or teacup assault depend on hair texture? Does ethnic solidarity take precedence over oaths of office? Can a Caribbean final court of appeal be trusted if local courts cannot? How great is the commitment of public officials to truth when their versions of the same events show irreconcilable discrepancies?

No Constitutional amendment will make these questions go away.

Copyright © 2005 Denis Solomon