If impunity were a person

Trinidad & Tobago Newsday

Mr and Mrs Impunity are smiling. No, rather, they’re grinning from ear to ear. “Why”, do you ask? Simple – they love the way our formal system of justice administration works. It’s slow to the point of stop on most occasions and legal arguments often delay the process to the point where plaintiffs (and defendants) can die before a case is settled.

Mind you, the criminal elements of our society have a great understanding of the threat posed by “impunity”, much more than the average law-abiding citizen.

You won’t find criminal organisations tolerating breaches of their codes and agreements. Oh no, retribution for infractions is swift, implacable and conclusive. Such punishments are severe and serve as a very effective deterrent to what they consider undesirable behaviour.

Unfortunately, judging from perceived performance, our formal system of administration of justice does not place the same premium on swiftness.

Victims of crime and their families are unable to see closure to events that turned their lives upside-down in an instant and caused distress. These folks understand first hand that “justice delayed is justice denied”.

Justice delayed also reduces the effectiveness of the justice system as a deterrent of crime.

Think of your new puppy — a tap on its nose when it goes out the gate lets the puppy know instantly that type of behaviour is a “no no”.

Then think of the way we matter-of-factly speed through red lights as if we were a nation of colour-blind drivers, free to do so because there is nary a traffic policeman in sight!

Small crimes lead to big ones and delays delink crime and punishment, creating uncertainty as to whether a crime would eventually be punished.

Where there is a perception that the rapidity of the justice system can vary with the type of crime and the social status of the accused, the system can be viewed as inequitable, leading to an undermining of social cohesion and social capital.

The allegations arising from the Piarco Airport Inquiry, the UFF commission and the Clico collapse have been dragging unresolved, through interminable grand-standing on public stages.

Some might reason while we live in a democratic society, it is surely an indictment of the system and those who manage it.

It can create the dangerous impression that some people are able to manipulate the system in order to ensure their impunity.

It compromises the very credibility of our system of justice, an untenable situation that can lead to a wide range of undesirable social consequences.

It also raises questions as to why, without explanation, some inquiry reports are never laid in Parliament and the results made known to the citizens whose taxes are spent in the process.

Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI) is deeply concerned about the delay in the concluding of the judicial process of those accused for the alleged corruption at the Piarco Airport construction project, in the bringing to justice of those alleged to have been responsible for wrongdoing in the operations of the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDECOTT) and the massive losses at the CLICO group.

We believe this failure leads to the belief the legal system is incapable of acting as a deterrent to corruption and can result in an increase in the frequency and size of losses as corrupt persons are encouraged to act with impunity when they see that the system is unable to punish them.

According to Transparency International (TI), “corruption thrives where temptation coexists with permissiveness.”

In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, the revenues our Government enjoys through its tax revenues, together with our loose procurement system creates many opportunities for temptation.

The fact that there has not been any successfully prosecuted major corruption case followed by a punitive sentence, tells that we live in a very permissive environment. The failure of our Police to catch any “big fish” during the recent state of emergency reinforces that belief.

TI also stresses corruption is alive and well even where political, economic, legal and social institutions are well developed. This tells us that we always have to be vigilant, as the corrupt are skilled at finding new ways to circumvent the efforts we make to block them. It is why our justice system has to deal with the corrupt in a prompt and severe manner if it is to serve as a deterrent.

TTTI calls on the authorities to take urgent and vigorous action to bring to justice any persons who are guilty of the corruption and malfeasance that have had such a negative effect on the fortunes of our country and on the psyche of our people.

In the meantime, Mr and Mrs Impunity are having margaritas around their pool.
The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Guardian Life of the Caribbean Limited.

Source: Trinidad & Tobago Newsday, 9th February, 2012

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