There is a sense of the unreal about the politics and administration of the State of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Government saddles Her Excellency, President Christine Kangaloo, almost before the ink dries on her letter of appointment, with a list of attorneys to be awarded the title of senior counsel. Among the 18 are her husband and brother. According to Her Excellency’s constitutional remit, she has no say in the matter.
The Leader of the Opposition, a former Prime Minister, fully aware of who makes the decision to appoint SCs, calls the President “shameless” for alleged nepotism. Undoubtedly, the objective is to seek to undermine the moral authority of the President, who she has sworn against.
The country is thrown into turmoil with allegations and counters. Nothing is new about the alleged political-plus bias of such awards. Both United National Congress and People’s National Movement governments have done the same; so too did the one-term National Alliance for Reconstruction government.
Influential individuals and sections of the legal fraternity complain that the Government, in the person of Attorney General Reginald Amour, who has the responsibility to select the persons for “silk” and recommend them to his Prime Minister, has not consulted. The Attorney General claims he did not receive positive responses to his invitations.
Inevitably, the cry is raised for constitutional change to place the power of separating a few attorneys at the top of their profession from the rest, away from political influence. Logical! But we have heard it all before.
When in opposition, the party and its supporters scream for change; when in government, the ruling party wants the status quo preserved to enjoy the benefits for its members and supporters.
Above the din, there are a few very deep dislocating and resource-absorbing matters which have the potential to result in increased expenditure for the administration and governance of the State and legal fees to citizens seeking justice.
The award of SC to attorneys allows the beneficiaries to hike their already substantial fees both to the State and individuals. Going back ten years and more, annual payments to SCs and others have been counted in the hundreds of millions. The allegations by both sides are that attorneys favoured with government work are party members. The further insinuation is that with such profitable briefs, the beneficiaries show their gratitude to the party.
On the allegations that many such awards of the expensive ‘silk’, made on the basis not of competence but on favouritism, means that the state and the individuals paying for the services of the SCs do not necessarily receive the benefits of greater competence in the contest of their cases in court.
Moreover, through the system as attained now, there is the furtherance of the ethic of corruption in the society seeded at the highest levels of the Government. The obvious self-serving statements in the contentions further diminish public trust in politics and government.
Everyone shouts about the heavy price paid for the State and society to drag the colonial ball and chain bequeathed by the British. Inevitably though, neither party-government is prepared to forgo the benefits enjoyed because of the 60-year-old constitutional arrangements.