attack on business as usual
Minister Karen Nunes Tesheira has reassuringly assigned
priority status to the distribution of land
long promised to former sugar workers.
New on the job, Ms Nunez Tesheira is thus going where her
predecessors, Prime Minister Patrick Manning and former
junior finance ministers, had never gone.
She is proceeding with urgency in the direction of correcting
a manifest injustice to workers whose only fault had been
to take the Governments word.
It is just as well that, even in advance of reading Justice
Lennox Deyalsinghs decision, she must agree with his
lack of the sense of urgency with this matter is, in my
view, tantamount to an abuse of power.
The loss-making, State-owned Caroni 1975 Ltd had for been
decades a vexed question that had claimed the at least rhetorical
attention of successive administrations.
From early 2002, the Manning administration evidently saw
the Caroni question as one it must determinedly resolve
and with relative swiftness.
As it later did with BWIA, another haemorrhaging state enterprise,
the Government ended the agonies of indecision and uncertainty.
It resolutely set about closing those entities seen to have
no promising future under traditional arrangements except
as endless claimants on Treasury funds.
The promise of land as part of a settlement package to workers
set to lose their sugar-industry jobs, was obviously meant
to neutralise opposition to the closure of a company, and
an industry that had constituted both a lifeline and a way
of life for tens of thousands.
A vexed question escalated, however, into a vexing matter
that, with the litigation enterprise of Ramesh Lawrence
Maharaj, reached the High Court for judicial review.
It is now notorious that lawyers for the Government sought
to weasel out of the land-distribution pledge by arguing
it did not confer a legitimate expectation.
Seeking to have it both ways, however, the State also declared
it had been taking steps to prepare the leases for the workers.
Justice Deyalsingh rejected the proposition, startling in
its implication, that the workers had no legitimate right
to expect the Prime Minister to keep his word. The judgment
also held that steps allegedly being taken to fulfill the
pledge were far too halting to mark good faith.
That not a single plot of land had been distributed in the
four years up to mid-2007 was scandalous, and he properly
denounced such foot-dragging:
attitude seems to have been business as usual,
not really concerned about the frustration that delay in
meeting the promise was causing.
The judge went further. He discredited the authorities
prognosis for the completion date of lease arrangements,
noting that earlier deadlines had not been met.
As has been well demonstrated, the Governments patience
with its own inefficiencies amounts to an arrogant presumption
that the public should simply be prepared to wait and wait
In all its spheres (health, education, transport notably)
public administration sets lower and lower standards for
service and performance.
The over-centralised Manning Cabinet system is geared more
to securing control than to ensuring productivity and performance.
It is encouraging, though long overdue, that the High Court
is signalling impatience with business as usual.
Justice Deyalsingh has set action dates for implementation
of his ruling.
The Government may appeal. But its doing so will have the
effect of postponing yet again the fulfillment of what was
meant to be taken as a solemn pledge to a powerless sector
of the society.
find that the promise to the former sugar workers has not
been kept, Justice Deyalsingh wrote, and that
their legitimate expectation has been, and is being, frustrated
by the lack of reasonably expeditious action.
From that ruling, and by any fair-minded assessment, the
Government has already lost a moral case.