Sunday 11th February , 2007

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No more sacred cows

The recent uproar over the objections to the appointment of a sitting magistrate to the position of High Court judge have been analysed and described by itinerant columnist and veteran journalist Andy Johnson as a case of politicking by the Opposition UNC.

While it is possible that it may have started out as that, it is not enough to simply dismiss it that way and leave it there.

This is because subsequent investigations have revealed there is a whole lot more to this matter than meets the eye.

It brings into focus our whole process of selecting and appointing candidates to serve in the judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago and in public offices generally.

In years gone by, there would be the old boys club, whereby it was generally accepted that they had their eyes on certain individuals they were grooming for positions in the judiciary.

The interview process, therefore, would be more of a formality than anything else. It was really a nod, a wink and a firm handshake that confirmed your appointment.

Appointees generally lived up to expectations, because there were these unwritten conventions as to norms and standards of expected behaviour, which were largely observed.

US System

Times have changed, and as with so many other areas of our lives, it has become necessary to scrutinise and regulate our conduct as human beings because unfortunately, we do not always do the right thing in every given circumstance.

Thus, it is no slur on the judiciary or the appointment process, for people to raise questions or objections, or to launch investigations, because that can only lead to greater transparency and a more rigorous and thorough screening exercise.

Look at the systems in the US, when high public office-holders are to be chosen. They rigorously and ruthlessly dig up every bit of dirt, mud and moss in your past.

They look for every cobweb, witches’ broom or skeleton in your closet and put it all out there for public scrutiny and public comment.

It is then up to the lobbyists and the pressure groups and the public opinion, generally, to decide whether they will overlook the faults and accept this candidate, or whether the list of sins is too great to be publicly pardoned and forgiven.

One recalls the election battle for the post of Governor of California when a few real, live skeletons were resurrected from Arnold’s past, complaining after all these decades that “He touched me.”

It obviously was not bothering them all the while before, but only now they were coming forward to complain, and the public obviously saw through this and rejected their complaints.

Consider also, the pitched battle that Clarence Thomas faced over his confirmation hearings for appointment to the United States Supreme Court.

His accuser Anita Hill, a law professor, dredged up ancient complaints of alleged sexual harassment and levelled them against Thomas.

These proceedings were televised nationally and internationally, and the whole world heard every slanderous and salacious detail of her allegation.

At the end of the day, her claims had no effect on his appointment. He was duly confirmed in the position, and has since gone on to distinguish himself by his service.

Here in T&T, we have to recognise that we are living in an evolving world.

There is tremendous access to information, and citizens will be more demanding in their questions and enquiries about public officials’ conduct, in and out of office, and also the history of their antecedents.

Instead of rebelling against it or just dismissing it as raw politicking, we should, in fact, embrace this as an opportunity for us to re-examine our screening and evaluation processes for how we choose our public officials.

Furthermore, Andy Johnson need not worry about politicians conveniently using such queries to play politics.

Political maturity

Because, in our ongoing evolution, we will eventually reach a state of political and social maturity when we will start using that same evaluation and screening process for our politicians or political aspirants as they do in the USA.

So that even if you smoked weed back in college, or were the mastermind behind the Foley page boy scandal, it will be put out there for scrutiny, and the public will ultimately decide whether this is the type of individual we want in public office.

Our public officials are just as weak, fallible, gullible and prone to do wrong as much of the rest of the population.

Now with Internet access, freedom of information, investigative reporters and computer hackers, there is really little or no way that people’s dirty little secrets or dirty laundry can remain hidden.

We may as well go through the process up front and get it all out in the open and then decide whether this is the type of individual we can live and work with as a public office-holder, or whether we feel so repulsed or disgusted by their past or present actions that we find them unsuitable.

So the general trend is to let the truth be out, because there are no more sacred cows.

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