In relation to the huge Marcia mess created by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC), there is no need to explain again the critical difference between the powers vested by law to deal with errant public officials and the complementary role of public opinion.
Robust public opinion encourages accountability and, where necessary, stimulates voluntary departure from office for the sake of taking an institution out of the mud into which blunder puts it. Public opinion is a guard of the guards.
I have kept focus on the Marcia mess because I believe the country will pay dearly for it without full accountability for the blunder and other loose and deficient practices regarding judicial appointments that are rapidly surfacing.
Meanwhile, readers will have taken note of the flight of officials at the Education Facilities Company Limited (EFCL) from the probing of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament (JSC) with jurisdiction to inquire into the affairs of that company.
In the case of the Chairman of EFCL, who resigned purportedly to protect his good name, one might reasonably ask what else prompted the resignation other than the matters for accountability raised in the Trinidad Express newspaper and the discomfort of facing the JSC?
Those who believe that robust public opinion is of little value because it has no legal power to remove blunderers will remain with that blind spot. But they, like the rest of us, will continue to stew in the unsavoury juice into which errant public officials place us.
It could hardly be said that the Permanent Secretary’s attempted justification of a $92,000 site visit to Tobago inspires trust and confidence that the affairs of the Ministry of Sport were in good hands. However since we, the public, have no power to remove Permanent Secretaries, must we be content to pay for more such luxury visits to Tobago?
Does the public’s lack of lawful power over the office of President likewise mean that we should have hushed our mouths when the Salaries Review Commission blessed a certain housing allowance?
The public has no legal power to remove a Speaker so why did we bother to protest when Wade Mark, while Speaker of the House of Representatives, permitted Vernella Alleyne-Toppin to mount a vicious attack on Dr Rowley and what she alleged was his background?
Was former Mayor of Port-of-Spain Raymond Tim Kee a real bobolee to resign when the women of the nation demonstrated against his remarks about a female murder victim? As they had no power to remove him, should he have stayed put?
Now even while the JLSC whirlwind is still tearing at the institutional reputation of the Judiciary, another whirlwind is battering the institutional reputation of the Defence Force. Because two big Army men are each saying it wasn’t the other who was responsible for the presence of the Attorney General’s children at an Army camp—even though, as explained by my fellow columnist Raffique Shah, there might well be no harm in the visit.
If Raffique is right, and I fully respect his expertise, then there has been a wholly unnecessary fudging of a simple matter possibly to satisfy the demands of partisan politics to stick a finger in the Opposition’s eye—but at the cost of the credibility of the Defence Force.
All these whirlwinds are of similar character. They blow in because no one will ever take responsibility, without prevarication, and account for challenged acts or omissions and seek to set things right if necessary.
A strong undercurrent of these whirlwinds is the placing of independent and trusted institutions into the service of the self-interest of others. If the source of the query is a political opponent, then both sides in our politics believe the opponent must be drowned to serve the self-interest of the impugned public official—even if truth and accountability pass in the rush.
The plain fact is that since Independence, at various times, the office of President of the Republic, Chief Justice, Speaker and other high offices have let us down. However, we assess the worth of the office holders who have let us down by obsessing over the persons who buss the mark, particularly over their race or politics, or whether some other office holder did the same thing or something similar.
This blind spot method of assessment of performance in public office has resulted in plummeting standards and unjust consequences. The bar is constantly being lowered.
Many commentators are unable to assess the issue of loss of confidence in the JLSC and its knock-on effect on the Judiciary without obsessing over some of the personalities raising the challenges, thereby evading the issue.
There will be destructive consequences for stability as the crisis of confidence deepens, as it already has in the past week, and the only responses are superficial comments made as distractions away from the reality of the problem.