Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.(iWN file photo)

By Jomo Sanga Thomas*

(“Plain Talk”, Feb. 21, 2020)

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”William Shakespeare; King Henry VI Part 2.

Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens too grievous to be borne.” — Jesus; The Bible, Luke 11:46.

“He is no lawyer who cannot take two sides.” — Charles Lamb

“The power of the lawyer is in the uncertainty of the law.”Jeremy Bentham

“The world has its fling at lawyers sometimes, but its very denial is an admission. It feels, what I believe to be the truth, that of all secular professions this has the highest standards.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

In yet another Budget Debate, PM Gonsalves, himself a lawyer and the father of three children who are lawyers, took a swing at lawyers who, according to him, are cheating the system by paying little or no taxes. Lawyers, we were told, owe about EC$11 million in taxes; some refuse to pay over to the government the VAT which they collected.

One is compelled to wonder why is our Prime Minister always picking on lawyers and not other professionals: doctors, engineers, architects or big business executives. After all, the country was alerted to the criminal behaviour of the moneyed class when the Comptroller of Inland Revenue disclosed that over EC$300 million dollars was owed by delinquent taxpayers.

Why then don’t we hear how much is owed by doctors, engineers or this or that business house or executive? Or how much VAT they have not paid? Have readers ever wondered why the PM consistently picks on lawyers?

Before we go to the answer, let’s clear the air. This is no defence of lawyers. All those persons who refuse to pay their fair share of taxes should be brought to heel. And we know that the Inland Revenue Department uses a multiplicity of measures and methods to get our people to comply with our tax laws. We know as well that most citizens don’t like to pay taxes. We know too that every citizen wants the best roads, schools and health services. So, the less taxes we pay, the fewer services the country will be able to afford.

We are at one with Oliver Wendell Holmes, the former US Supreme Court Justice, when he declared his support for the payment of taxes with the following: “I love paying taxes because with my taxes I buy civilisation.”

For our part, we have sued at least two lawyers who were accused by clients of cheating them out of substantial sums of money. Had it not been for timidity of other clients, we could have sued more lawyers thus breaking the wall of secrecy and complicity in the fraternity. Therefore, this is no defence of lawyers’ greed.

However, the nagging and troubling question resurfaces each time the PM demands the private files of citizens (lawyers) and singled them out for negative commentary and the wrath of the public. Why pick on lawyers when the ULP has historically been a party of lawyers. Ole Labour had Milton Cato, Arthur Williams, Grafton Isaacs, St. Clair Dacon, Arthur Woods el al to current coterie of Gonsalves and his son, Camillo, Saboto, Carlos James, Rochel Forde. Though not yet called to the bar, even Debbie Charles and Luke Browne sport law degrees.

So, what’s the PM’s obsession with lawyers? He presented the answer during the Budget Debate. He told the nation that there are some lawyers who go to court, turn away from judge and jury, look to the gallery and play politician. By this statement, we can clearly glean that our PM is primarily opposed to those lawyer politicians who talk against his government.

The clear and distinct lesson from PM Gonsalves’ budgetary assault is as follows: Keep your damn mouth shut.  If you play politician and make critical comments against me or my government, I will do all to turn the public against you and shame you. So, shut up.

Now we know that Hitler despised communists, Jews, homosexuals, blacks and gypsies. We also know that Europeans hate Africans, running from the mayhem created by European destabilisers on the African continent, coming to their countries. We also know too that Trump scorns and loves to hate Muslims and Hispanics fleeing American imposed dictators in Latin America.

We know as well that scapegoating may serve the narrow interest of a leader or party, but it is never in the interest of most people or the nation. Therefore, all patriots must raise their voices against the infantile attacks against lawyers. Beware: Angela Davis was correct in saying, “If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you at night.” It is unbecoming and irresponsible for the leader of any country to resort to crassness to make a point about non-payment of taxes. Rather, the Inland Revenue Department should reinvigorate its efforts to collect from all tax cheats and delinquents.

Rosa Luxenberg correctly noted that “Freedom for the majority, those in government, is no freedom at all. Democracy is judged by the tolerance and respect for minority views and opinions.” We dare to add contrarian, half-baked, and even wrong ideas should all be allowed to contend allowing for settlement in the proverbial “marketplace of ideas”.

If PM Gonsalves is allowed to continue to unleash these improper verbal attacks against one set of tax delinquents and not others, it may cause a chilling effect on free speech and association in this country. The trend is troubling. At his party’s 25th anniversary rally, PM Gonsalves barked this command to his supporters, “All renegades, turn coats and castaways are dead — politically.” Last Tuesday, Julian Francis called on ULP supporters to stone persons who mount political platforms in opposition to the governing party.

Right-thinking Vincentians know that these statements about lawyers are intended to chill speech. Those about death and stones are reckless incitement to violence. We forget the 1994 election cycle when political violence ripped through the land, to our eternal regret.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. 

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

6 replies on “Dem damned lawyers and free speech”

  1. Mismanaging the State funds of St Vincent and the Grenadines, such a charge being put before the Gonsalves family regime, is most clearly unlikely to ever get off the ground here, as through their overarching influence, they control all aspects of our miserable Vincentian life, with their long arm, reaching into every facet of our daily life here.

    Ralph Gonsalves have reminded us who PAPA is, and as like Maduro with the Venezuelans, Vincentians know who the PAPA is. Sure, we can go to as many court in the world we desire for redress of our complaints, we in the end he said, will end up with our PAPA’s decision. The sure words of a dictator!

    That however is no longer the case in Angola, where the former ruling regime there has lost power after their many years in office. This is why Africa’s richest woman “Isabel dos Santos”, is now a formal fraud suspect in Angola, according to a recent Report. Angolan prosecutors have allege that the billionaire clearly mismanaged state funds, when she led Angola’s state oil firm.

    Her assets being put under lockdown! Not fair she cries, I have earned my billions fair and square even though other Angolans have to go without.

    https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/isabel-dos-santos-formal-fraud-suspect-angola-report-200122230444814.html

    Control of both Parliament and the judiciary sure goes a long way in escaping scrutiny, especially when there is much to hide. Since coming to office here in SVG, the Gonsalves have done all that they could possible do to cower most Vincentians through their propaganda and indoctrinations. The result is a begging bowl mentality and the Cubanisation of our small state.

    https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/dos-santos-seized-assets-block-repaying-debt-200220154129726.html

    As many here have found out, good economics is most certainly not on the Gonsalves regime’s part and even less is accountability to parliament here. While some lip service is paid to the constitution in reality, the regime does very much what it likes.

    So let us hope that if and when we do again go to the polls, true freedom, access to justice and the recovery of the failing SVG economy that keep so many people out of work, would override all other considerations.

  2. Jomo I agree with you that the PM singled out lawyers as being non-compliantwith our tax laws.Howeve, I am not speaking for him, but I hope each of the various professionals will be verbally chastised as you have in indicated.

  3. While “we can clearly glean that our PM is primarily opposed to those lawyer politicians who talk against his government” JOMO, adding to that “Last Tuesday, Julian Francis called on ULP supporters to stone persons who mount political platforms in opposition to the governing party” it sure demonstrates that we are all now at risk of being more disadvantaged by some grossly nefarious actions of the dictatorship.

    As you rightly noted too that we ought to indeed (Beware: Angela Davis was correct in saying, “If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you at night.”) for as we know from past evidence that failing regimes who controlling all legal means of violence, tends to lash out at those it perceives to be a threat to its continued survival.

    Perhaps the “all-powerful Gonsalves regime” is beginning to notice more dissenting voices among those it once could rely on to adorn red shirts and repeat its deceiving slogans of “me na tun back” and “labour love”!

    Or perhaps the Gonsalves extended family is coming to a realisation that its rolling deceptive train is coming off its rails because of that old quote of Abraham Lincoln that says that; “ You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”.

    Moreover, is it not profoundly interesting that we can find elsewhere there in Africa “Lesotho’s prime minister to be charged with ex-wife’s murder; Thomas Thabane expected on Friday to be charged in killing of his estranged wife Lipolelo in 2017” yet those suspected of lawbreaking here in SVG and who may well be close to the regime, appears to be above the Law? And what of the last election and the continuing saga?

    https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/lesotho-prime-minister-charged-wife-murder-200220134743884.html

    Take for a simple example this fact that “Last Tuesday, Julian Francis called on ULP supporters to stone persons who mount political platforms in opposition to the governing party”! This surely is a clear incitement to perhaps murder and one that “may” well also turn out to form part of a larger criminal conspiracy.

    Which police officer here therefore would be brave enough to go and interview Julian Francis in light of his worrying statement?

    Taxes and their collection apart. As a lawyer Jomo you may recall that in England by the 15th century, petitions were referred directly to the Chancellor, who dealt with cases on a flexible basis: he was more concerned with the fair result than with rigid principles of law (hence the jurist John Selden’s jibe that “equity varied with the length of the Chancellor’s foot”. But what of Vincentians today under the Gonsalves?

    Today in SVG under our dictatorship however, neither fair results before our courts nor principles in law counts for much. What counts here is one’s closeness to the Gonsalves regime. The question for me is why were past Vincentians so grossly negligent to hand over their new freedom to one extended family who have proved so bad for us all?

  4. Julian Francis called on ULP supporters to stone persons who mount political platforms in opposition to the governing party.

    I am calling on the dirty police to arrest the dirty politician on the grounds of incitement at a public meeting to commit deadly acts of violence.

    If the police do nothing we therefore know they are completely owned by the Gonsalves/ Francis dynasty.

  5. Dear Jomo, If you can tell us anything that the law profession has done or does for the betterment of mankind I will give up my first born. Lawyers should not be in politics. Government is about bettering the lives of your fellow human beings but lawyers are wired the opposite way. They thrive on what goes wrong with the human spirit; You make a trouble you need a lawyer; Divorce? Lawyer; Land dispute ? and on and on. Any surprise our politics is so contentious. The only reason lawyers dominate politics is because they can work for themselves so they are free to speak and contest elections without fear of retribution. You lose your seat, you go back to your practice. Engineers and doctors who are infinitely smarter and whose professions prepare them to work for the advancement of people generally don’t have that luxury ; They mostly and most unfortunately work for somebody who pay their taxes so the PM doesn’t need to question their standing. They are mostly employed by the administration so they have no choice but to fall in line and be quiet; otherwise? Just ask the former Vinlec Engineers. And the point of all this rambling is? Lawyers are the loudest voice but not the most sincere so we probably need to hear less from them and more from the people who can offer substance. No wonder society heaps so much scorn in the direction of you guys.

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