By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” – Jan. 3, 2019)
Our country is a country of traitors. Statements like “Vincy to the bone”, “Beloved SVG” and “Country before self” reflect empty glib talk with no real meaning. We are a country of traitors, and treacherously so. We are traitors to our family, friends, neighbours. We are traitors to ourselves. We betray our conscience every day of our lives.
Last Tuesday, while parliament met to discuss the 2019 estimates of EC$1.067 billion, our Court of Appeal delivered one of the most stinging rebuke to our country’s executive branch. This case had to do with an appeal from a decision rendered by Justice Brian Cottle. Three teachers, who contested the elections for the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) in 2010, were refused readmission into the service after they failed to win their seats. The teachers, Elvis Daniel, Kenroy Johnson
Two things flowed from the critically important decision. The most important of which was that our courts, as is so often alleged by opposition parliamentarians and supporters, are not in Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves’ pocket. The other was that government has some serious thinking to do regarding its dealings with the citizenry generally, but more so its perceived enemies. Good governance principles, ever crucial to a democracy, demand that the government pause from its cocksure approach. The days of rulers are rapidly coming to an end. These times require inspiring leadership.
No one, except those blinded by hyper partisanship, can deny that, as in the case with Otto Sam, the government, having vanquished Daniel, Johnson and Thomas at the polls intended to “economically assassinate” them. The refusal to rehire them reflected a callous disregard for the lives and welfare of fellow citizens. These were longstanding teachers, who, among them, chalked up 101 years in service to our children’s education. To promise then renege on the collective bargaining agreement manifested a bad faith.
Anyone schooled in the law ought to have recognised from the very first paragraph that this case was going to go badly for the government. Justice Baptiste writing for the court opened his judgment thus:
“It is unremarkable for the citizen to invoke the Constitution as a means of redress in respect of action by the State where it is alleged that rights guaranteed thereunder are being contravened or are threatened with contravention. This case presents the rather remarkable scenario in which the State engages the Constitution to avoid the provisions of article 16 of a collective agreement it entered into with the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Union of Teachers (the ‘Union’), on the ground that that article is ultra vires the Constitution.”
It was all downhill after the initial salvo. But this column is not intended as an elaborate outline of the Court’s decision. This column is about us and our betrayal of core principles, betrayal of love ones and colleagues if and when its fits our political narrative. We pause here only to say that whilst the Court refrained from reinstating the teachers on the ground that the judiciary does not want to usurp the role of the executive, it ordered the government to pay pension and gratuity as well as cost in the matter below and in the appeal. You can be sure Daniel, Johnson and Thomas are having their best sleep since they lost their bids to become elected parliamentarians.
Our position has been unwaveringly consistent from the beginning. Eight years ago, on a picket organised by the People’s Movement for Change picket, we said: “Our focus today is to speak to the fact that the collective Bargaining Agreement between the teachers and the government was legal and valid. It was legitimate and the government should honour that agreement.”
But what has been the position of others. Those supporting the government said that the agreement was invalid because it violated the Constitution. They said the idea to allow teachers to contest elections were not real, meaningful or intended for implementation because it was purely aspirational. Conveniently forgotten was the oft-touted notion that the clause demonstrated the forward looking, peopled centred policy of the Unity Labour Party.
The teachers, Daniel, Johnson and Thomas, were criticised for throwing cold water on the vaunted Education Revolution.
Worse, because of that cardinal sin, they were not readmitted into the system. They lost their jobs, pensions and benefits. Party supporters cheered on such views and actions. Some compounded the vindictiveness and spite by gleefully declaring “good fo dem”. Fortunately, we have a judiciary that is true to the fundamental principles of due process of the law and fairness.
Since this decision government supporters have maintained a shell-shocked silence.
But they are not to be outdone. While generally elated about the decision, which came on the heels Otto Sam, Petitions and PSU defeats for the government, opposition supporters refuse to drop the mantra that our court is in Gonsalves’ pocket. They claim that Gonsalves gives one sometimes. They say to argue about objectivity and independence of the court is to succumb to the trick argument that the 2015 elections were free and fair because the government narrowly won eight seats to seven. Many in the opposition do not subscribe to the view “you win some, you lose some”. Once the decision goes against it the court is corrupt.
And the band plays on. We have suspended our common sense. We refuse to engage our good sense. We abandon, betray and sacrifice our conscience on the altar of political expediency. Our work colleague fails yet again to get a promotion, but we find ways to explain away why he is not favoured. Our neighbour’s son does not get into the school his grades qualifies him for, but that’s okay because my daughter is right where I wanted her.
Some of us afford the good life because of our profession and job, therefore those who live in poverty and cannot find work need to get off their lazy asses. We all profess to be saint when in our hearts and minds we know we are devil, devil, devil.
In traitorous times like these the New Testament Scripture verse John 4:20 rings true. “If any one says, I love God, and hate his brother (sister), he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother (sister) whom he sees, how can he love God whom he cannot see.”
Unless we come to know and be true to ourselves, we will continue on a slippery slope to hell.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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