No more sacred cows
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
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
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.
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
One recalls the election battle for the post of Governor of
California when a few real, live skeletons were resurrected
from Arnolds 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
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.
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 peoples 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.