Borrowing is often a habit by people who believe that they are the smart ones. In the case of ordinary people, they borrow to save their own money. Others borrow because they are reticent about owning their own.
A man was always borrowing tools from his neighbor.
One day he went to borrow a hammer. The neighbour said that he was sorry but that his mother had died. The wife heard the reason for her husband for not lending his hammer. She turned to her husband to ask what did his mother’s death have to do with his not lending the hammer. The man replied that when someone does not want to do something, one excuse is as good as the other. This story came to mind when reporters pressed President Irfaan Ali on the confirmation of the Chancellor and the Chief Justice.
At his press conference last Saturday when the matter was raised, he said that the Judicial Service Commission has been appointed. He said that this commission would look at the entire judiciary. It would look at all areas of the judiciary, including the shortage of judges.
However, the Judicial Service Commission has nothing to do with the confirmation of the Chancellor and the Chief Justice. That is the prerogative of the president after consultation and the agreement of the Opposition Leader. Some time back, the Opposition Leader, having failed to be able to consult with the President, wrote a letter to President Ali stating his agreement for the two women to be confirmed.
Months passed and there was no movement in this direction. Private citizens moved to the courts. They got a judge to say that this was a travesty and that the steps to the conformation should be made as early as possible. Again President Irfaan Ali did not budge.
Last Saturday, he said that there were a Chancellor and a Chief Justice who were performing in keeping with the constitution. As far as he was concerned, the positions were filled and he made no bones about admitting to that. That being said he was sending a clear message that once two people were occupying the office, be they confirmed or in an acting position, then confirmation was irrelevant.
It mattered not that the Caribbean Court of Justice was critical of the non-appointments. The president of the Caribbean Court noted that Guyana has been without a Chief Justice for nearly two decades. This must be the only country in the world where this has been the case. Many reasons are being proffered for the refusal of the President to confirm a Chancellor and a Chief Justice. And this trend began with Bharrat Jagdeo.
When Chancellor Desiree Bernard moved off the scene having served as Chief Justice, Jagdeo played a game with the seniority within the judiciary. He shunted Justice Claudette Singh aside and promoted Justice Carl Singh to Chief Justice. When questioned, he said that the movement of Justice Claudette Singh was lateral. He said that she would receive the same pay as the Chief Justice. So she served as the Police Legal Adviser.
When Justice Bernard demitted the office of Chancellor, Justice Carl Singh moved up. At one stage he held the offices of Chief Justice and Chancellor. A ruling by the court forced him to give up the post of Chief Justice. So he became the first of the acting Chancellors. His successor was none other than Justice Ian Chang. He was made to act and he was never confirmed. Justice Yonette Cummings replaced Justice Ian Chang, who has since gone to the Great Beyond. She was never confirmed as Chief Justice. Justice Carl Singh retired and Justice Cummings became the acting Chancellor.
Later, she was also made to feel that she was not the best person for the job because during the term of the Coalition government there began a quest for a Chancellor. Interviews of the applicants were conducted. That quest died because the elections of 2020 came.
Some people say that because both Justice Cummings and the Chief Justice, Justice Roxane George, at one time or another had ruled against the government there is this acrimony on the part of the government.
Justice Cummings was a judge who ruled that Jagdeo could not get a third term as President. The matter went to the Caribbean Court of Justice which upheld that decision. But Jagdeo has not forgiven Justice Cummings. Sadly, the members of the judiciary cannot comment in the media nor can they protest. Theirs is the case of, as the British would say, ‘Keep a stiff upper lip’.
There was the case of Justice James Bovell-Drakes. The Judicial Service Commission decided to appoint him as a judge. Bharrat Jagdeo objected most vehemently. He refused to swear in Bovell-Drakes. It took the threat of strike by the most prominent lawyers and the other legal practitioners to force Jagdeo to capitulate.
He was the first to expose the fragile nature of the independence of the judiciary.
By not confirming people in the judiciary, the authorities are actually tampering with the independence of the judiciary.
There was the case of Justice Jainarayan Singh. He was never confirmed by Bharrat Jagdeo as a Puisne judge because he did give a ruling against the government. Later, when he retired, he tried to collect his pension as a judge. The rest is now history. He couldn’t get such a pension because he was never really a Puisne judge. Others like him therefore try their best to be on the good side of the government.
Even the judge who ruled on the matter involving the confirmation of the Chancellor and the Chief Justice trod lightly. Her decision was such that President Irfaan Ali could do as he is doing today. So, he says that he is happy that a Chancellor and a Chief Justice are in place, regardless of whether they are without tenure. The other judges, who believe that Irfaan likes them, are simply biding their time in the wings.