Tempered justice

Women's-eye View By Vanda Radzik
Stabroek News
January 28, 2001

Justice Claudette Singh has made history in Guyana with her carefully rendered ruling on the 1997 Elections Petition. She refuses to be drawn into speculation about fraud, or to pronounce on any such in her ruling - though she duly notes flaws and irregularities aplenty in the process. She upholds the rule of law on a basis of constitutional principle and declares the 1997 elections null and void based on the unconstitutionality of the Voter ID cards. She upbraids the bemused lawyers who try to argue that the two tribes actually quite happily agreed to these beleaguered bits of condemned plastic, bringing the lawyers and their respective clients up short with her invocation of the highest law of the land - and reminding them flatly of their flaunting of it. Justice Singh knows the letter of the law and sticks to it. She reads her Constitution and applies it without fear or favour. Plastic does not always make it possible There is a certain simple and irreducible truth in her ruling that consigns the ill-conceived Voter ID cards to the garbage can. (Regrettably, without even the option of condemning these to the recycle bin - it needs to be pointed out!) What a pity, therefore, that in the long run these miserable plastic tags end up being not only a political but also an environmental liability. One can be excused for idly wondering if an argument can be brought to bear by the environmentalists that the 1997 elections are further injurious to the nation's health and well-being by being environmentally unsustainable. Or can damages be claimed and the donors ill-spent aid money and honest taxpayers' dollars be recouped for something more sensible and meaningful in the lives of a poor nation like Guyana? Justice Singh would brook no further interference in the matter, however, it seems. The Voter ID card is now condignly reduced to the scrapheap of growing idiosyncrasies and idiocy that has become the unfortunate brand of much of Guyana's electoral history. Poetic justice with a comic twist This is where one wishes that the poetic justice of literature could prevail - along the lines of the Red Queen's inimitable brand in Alice in Wonderland: "Off with their heads," she would scream!! Whose heads would that be in our context? In the illogic of the fairy tale - grim as these usually are - could we fantasize that this decree would fall on the necks of the former Elections Commis-sion, made up of more than one lawyer, as I recall, along with the combined clutch of politicians who hatched the Voter ID card plan. Interesting how this lot could merrily come up with a big null and void scheme of the plastic variety, but fail to come to terms on a matter of constitutional principle in order to steer a calm and reasoned course ahead. Nothing on governance "Nothing on Governance", this was a quotation from one of the lawyers voiced on Capitol News (25.1.2001) in this channel's reportage on the meeting of the 'legal eagles' of both camps ordered by Justice Singh. These lawyers met for two days and, sadly but predictably, could only agree to disagree. " The fundamental issues remain unresolved"; (Tweedledum) "We don't have a consensus - no positive report to give" (Tweedledee). "A most orderly meeting among the lawyers, nonetheless" - (Dum & Dee). The most sane and strategically viable propositions put forward in the political sphere by Rupert Roopnaraine and in the legal sphere by Miles Fitzpatrick for interim protocols and governing structures that would provide shared responsibility by the two main parties did not find favour, it appears, with the lawyerly hawks of the opposing sides. No room for doves in this pecking season, remember. This is another sad failure for Guyana, another opportunity lost for rising to the occasion and doing us proud as a whole people. The ball was thrown back into the politicians' court - the lawyers' clients - and dropped. It is without doubt that Justice Claudette Singh has proved her worth and set a benchmark for women in her profession that does us all proud - no matter where we sit on the political spectrum.

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