Long time coming Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
February 6, 2002

THE probe announced Monday into alleged widespread corruption in the magistracy was a long time coming.

For years, there have been persistent charges and complaints that all was not well in that branch of the judicial system and that corruption was rampant.

We know that top police officers have expressed concern at the way some cases, which involved extensive investigations, were disposed of and the impression among citizens was that anything was possible once the price was right.

We have no doubt that there are magistrates who are honourable, who act strictly according to the law and who cannot be fingered for any misdeeds or corrupt actions.

But the impression among the public, including among some members of the judicial system, was that something rotten was going on and that a probe into the system was only a matter of time in coming.

Similar widespread views and charges clearly led to the establishment of the joint team to look into alleged rampant corruption and financial impropriety at the Deeds and the Supreme Court registries.

Announcing that another joint team would be investigating similar allegations in the magistracy and which involve some magistrates, Head of the Presidential Secretariat and Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon on Monday reflected the public perception.

He said many ordinary Guyanese have complained to the Government, the Chancellor, Chief Magistrate and the Judicial Service Commission "about the irregular, unlawful and corrupt practices of Magistrates all over the length and breadth of this country (and) this has been going on for quite some time."

He didn't stop there: "In the magistracy, corrupt practices have been uncovered and over and over, these have been brought to public attention."

An alarming claim by the Cabinet Secretary was that in the Georgetown Magisterial District "literally millions of dollars of revenue mysteriously disappeared and cannot be accounted for and very occasionally, revealed to have been swindled, to have been stolen, by the lesser minions in the magistracy".

And he was blunt when asked whether magistrates have been found or observed being involved in corrupt practices: "I have absolutely no doubt that they are involved, absolutely no doubt."

Such bluntness would not be appreciated in some quarters but we think the Government can be assured of public support as it moves to ensure full public confidence in the judicial system.

This is of vital importance because a judiciary above board is crucial to the functioning of a democracy. Allegations of corruption and unsavoury practices in any branch of the judiciary would only serve to undermine public confidence in such an institution.

And there's little hope for a well-ordered society when its citizens lose faith in institutions that are supposed to be fully above board and hold their interests above anything else.

Concerns about grievous shortcomings in aspects of the judicial system are not new but those expressed by Dr. Luncheon Monday have brought them right on to the front burner where they should have been a long time before.