by DR HAMID GHANY:
The personal decision by Ken Gordon in his capacity as chairman of the Integrity Commission to meet privately at his home with Dr Keith Rowley has been identified as being an error by many of those who have spoken publicly on the matter. For some it was a minor error and for others it was major. The consensus of opinion is that it was wrong.
However, Gordon felt that he did the right thing owing to the fact that Rowley defined the need for his meeting as being urgent. The debate that has erupted over this has created a firestorm of controversy primarily because the Integrity Commission is a quasi-judicial body and not your average public body. The most troubling aspect of this entire episode has been the widespread silence of the traditional pressure groups and commentators who would otherwise have commented on a matter as fundamental as this. What has happened?
There is no doubt that Ken Gordon is very well connected in the corporate and social world of this country and the region. Those connections cut through many of the groups and organisations that would normally vilify people in public life for any infractions that they may commit. Such people would fit into a category of “other lesser mortals” for whom there are no exceptions to the rules which create one set for the socially connected and another for the rest.
To think that bodies like the local branch of Transparency International or the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce would remain silent on this issue, one way or the other, is baffling.
In a release on the Section 34 controversy on September 19, 2012, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce said, inter alia: “Many of the challenges faced by T&T within recent years which have impacted on our country’s competitiveness, have been underpinned by repeating themes of the need for good governance and transparency, particularly by public officials. Therefore, the chamber will continue to call for the highest ideals and values of good governance and transparency that is expected of our government.”
These are indeed lofty goals associated with the desire of the chamber to see “good governance and transparency” upheld by public officials. So what happened here? Did Ken Gordon’s secret meeting with Dr Rowley not rise to the standard laid out by the chamber last year on the Section 34 issue? New facts have emerged, and the meeting between Gordon and Rowley had everything to do with Section 34. Why was the chamber so vocal last year and so silent now?
On the same date as the Chamber of Commerce statement last year, a joint statement was issued by the JCC, TTTI, Fixin’ T&T, Fitun and the TTMA which said, inter alia: “Further to the proclamation and subsequent repeal of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011 and the ensuing damage to public confidence arising from both actions, it is critical that Government take immediate steps to restore that trust in public administration which is essential for good order in our society.”
This sounds so good, yet when faced with a clear and present error of judgment from the chairman of the Integrity Commission involving the very same Section 34 matter, they have chosen to remain silent with the exception of one comment about an elusive board meeting that may or may not have been held and another waiting for more facts.
Their silence is troubling as this is still a Section 34 matter that does not put the Government in the seat of error.
These bodies have always prided themselves on their ability to play the watchdog role in society. What has happened is that they created a societal dead zone in which the very concerns they raised last year about the Section 34 matter cannot get similar treatment this year, perhaps because the Government is not involved in this latest controversy. This is a matter that involves the Opposition and the chairman of a quasi-judicial body and not the Attorney General and the Prime Minister.
Their silence conveys a political preference or a bias to protect social and corporate interests to which they may be linked. The deeper problem is the fact that their silence removes the outrage that would otherwise accompany their intervention where other people are concerned.
One wonders whether the fact that the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and some other ministers in the Cabinet are not involved here, and that they do not belong to the same corporate and social networks as Ken Gordon and some of the leaders of these pressure groups, could explain why this seems like the silence of the lambs.
Is this the kind of reasoning that could help us explain why there is division and ambivalence on the accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice by many and that there is no burning public desire to let the Privy Council go? Something to think about.