Normally I’d do my annual round-up in the last week of December but since this is my “swan song” for this space, something different seems to be required. Retrospection has its place since it allows you to know how far you have come but there’s something to be said for looking towards the future.
What follows is a cross-bred species or, in musical parlance, a “mash-up.”
1. I’ve hounded regulatory bodies in this space (and with good reason) but the good Lord in heaven knows that the Fair Trading Commission has almost restored my faith in the independence of Barbadian institutions. In the face of all the political “pompasetting”,they have stayed the course and acted in accordance with the law. I’ve written ad nauseam about monopolies and anti-competition and this oil company deal looked, felt, smelt and tasted anti-competitive. Kudos to them! The icing on the cake being the timing with Independence celebrations. Maybe we are growing up.
2. Everyone has an opinion on the pace, efficacy and fairness of the administration of justice in this country. Everyone complains but most people have no solid solutions, or are not willing to publicly share them. Here are a few of mine:
a. Money needs to be spent. You cannot treat the court system like the“bastard” child before the Status of Children Reform Act and expect that itis going to grow up and be a happy, productive, satisfied and functional member of the society.
b. This is no longer a system with two puisne judges and a Chief Justice that was a law unto himself. The system requires dedicated management and you cannot expect that a Chief Justice who has things to do, can hear and determine cases while running a place with 13 courts and all the things that go along with that. Hire someone who is qualified in systems administration to run the business aspect of the court system and then let them do their job. Emphasis on “let them do their job.”
c. The Supreme Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2008 have been in use for long enough that no one should be referring to them as the “new” rules. That being said, we should have practice directions aplenty to plug the holes in the rules and the courts should be in the habit now of enforcing them. Everyone should be familiar after nearly a decade but enforcement is always a perennial problem with every aspect of Barbadian society. This should apply to the Crown’s lawyers as well, since it seems that the courts bend over backwards to allow the state to circumvent the rules and draw out matters. Inadequate resources stop being an adequate excuse when you have no intention of addressing the problem.
d. You want to increase pace and efficiency? Set deadlines, not guidelines. The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) keeps writing about how long it should take for decisions to be delivered but guess what, there is no law that requires a judge to deliver an easy decision in three months or a difficult one in six months. Somebody has to legislate that. If I were a judge and my salary and pension weren’t affected by the delivery of decisions,maybe I’d quite frankly ignore them too.
e. Down at the court, what applies to Ms Smith from Pie Corner and Markley from the Orleans should also apply to Mr Fenshaw from Millennium Heights and Ms Tourist who literally just walked out of the Port. This is Barbados, I don’t think I need to waste words explaining this.
f. Cut out all of the arbitrary rules that somebody dreamed up in their bed at 3:00 in the morning. Some of these“rules” are just sheer wickedness and have no foundation in either law or common sense.
g. Stop disenfranchising poor black people. What on God’s earth do earrings in my ears or a decent armhole shirt have to do with collecting a birth certificate or registering a child? We would be a lot better off if we focussed on all the substantive things that are wrong and forget about these little stupid things that affect nothing and no one.
h. The Bench, the Bar and the Registry are not supposed to behave like enemies, they are supposed to each do their part to deliver “justice” to the masses. We cannot continue to take a confrontational approach to each other from the word ‘go’ and expect that the entire system will not break down.
3. Constitutional reform is a must if we are not to blossom into a full banana republic.
a. An Integrity Commission with an independent investigative and prosecutorial arm should be enshrined in the Constitution.
b. The selection of judges, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the members of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission should be depoliticized and made utterly transparent. I don’t usually look to the USA for any example as to how things should be done, but you see congressional hearings before those types of appointments. I think we need to go there and let’s see who is in charge of important institutions in our country. Who are you and what do you stand for?
c. The Auditor General should be granted powers to carry out forensic audits and not be tied down by having to lay any report in Parliament for politicians to sit on and conveniently ignore, especially since their misfeasance may be the subject of the audit. The findings could be reported to the Integrity Commission and prosecuted through that avenue. The Public Accounts Committee (in either of its two guises) might then become unnecessary and the government can then happily repeal the Public Accounts Committee Act without adverse comment.
d. Term limits. Term limits. Term limits. There’s a reason why sometimes you insist that people take vacation.
e. Provision for referenda. How else can the citizenry take control of democracy instead of letting politicians tell us what they think the agenda is or how we as citizens feel about a particular topic?
f. While I’m all about girl power and like HRH ER II on a personal level, why on earth are we holding on to the British monarchy? I was embarrassed when on the 50th anniversary of Independence,the Queen’s grandson took precedence over a born and bred (accent and all) Barbadian Governor General. We just simply need to do better. It’s like a six-year-old still trying to breastfeed but the milk dried up years ago.
4. I can’t say that much of anything has improved since I started this column six odd years ago:
a. The merchants are still price-gouging (my very first article), aided and abetted by an increasingly murkier tax system;
b. People are still complaining about lawyers and there has been no push to“fix” the Disciplinary Committee, quite possibly because it represents a good whipping boy for some embattled politico;
c. The Employment Rights Tribunal’s pace is so slow that it’s undermining the intent of the Employment Rights Act. At least it exists now so perhaps that can be counted on the plus side of the equation;
d. We have sexual harassment legislation but already people seem intent on taking it to illogical proportions;
e. Moral suasion continues to fail in relation to financial institutions and the Central Bank and Financial Services Commission seem intent on continuing to ignore their bad behaviour.
f. People still continue to bend, break or ignore the law with impunity.
It’s, however,been my pleasure to shower you with my sarcasm and cynicism for so long. I now bid you adieu.