By Charlesworth C M Tabor, Attorney-at-Law
The Prime Minister in a broadside on his radio station Pointe FM, a few days ago, castigated the Judiciary because of the intention of a Judge to issue a garnishee order against the National Asset Management Company (NAMCO) so that a debt owed to Half Moon Bay Holdings (HMB) by the government could be satisfied.
First of all, a garnishee order is nothing new or unreasonable. It is a normal debt enforcement tool used by the court to enforce the payment of a debt. However, in this case, because it is against NAMCO, the Prime Minister completely lost his senses and went ballistic. His sole reason why the court was wrong is based on the fact that the garnishee order would seriously impact the country’s economy and it could hurt us. He went on to say that it would also hamper our attempts to deal with the coronavirus threat to the country. I was a bit surprised to hear the Prime Minister’s groanings since I thought we were living in an economic powerhouse called Antigua and Barbuda.
Now to the issue of the Prime Minister’s comments. The Prime Minister said that the intention of the Judge to issue the garnishee order was flawed, unreasonable and perverted. Judges are not gods, they are human beings and are therefore fallible, so a judgment can be wrong sometimes. Their judgments can also be criticized, and as the Prime Minister said, he has the right of freedom of speech under the Constitution and therefore can criticise. I would just like to admonish the Prime Minister, however, that it is not so much what you say, but rather how it is said. In also making statements, one must also realise the position that one holds within the society. Just as Judges would not be expected to make certain statements or defend themselves in public because of the position they hold, so too, a Prime Minister is not expected to make certain statements because of his position, despite his right of freedom of speech under the Constitution.
Unlike the Antigua and Barbuda Bar Association (ABBA), who issued a press release reprimanding the Prime Minister for his statement, and in particular his view that the Judges’s opinion on the matter was flawed, unreasonable and perverted (and they were right to do so); my reprimand of the Prime Minister is grounded from a completely different perspective. You will recall in his public utterance the Prime Minister said that the Judge sent a message to him requesting an undertaking for the garnishee order (that of course I do not believe) and that he sent a message back to the Judge indicating that “he nar gie such an undertaking, and that the Judge can lock him up.” I also do not believe that the Prime Minister sent any message to the Judge (but capable journalists should be following up on that matter so we can get the truth). My personal view is that as usual, the Prime Minister was just grandstanding for the benefit of his minions and many mindless supporters.
It is that statement by the Prime Minister i.e., that he sent a message to the Judge that he will not give any undertaking and that the Judge can lock him up, that I find inappropriate, outrageous, contemptuous and asinine. The Prime Minister is the head of the Executive arm of government, the Judges are part of the Judicial arm of government. Under the principle of the Separation of Powers which is fundamental in a democratic society, the three arms of government – Excutive, Legislative and Judicary are co-equal and should show mutual respect to each other. So even on this principle alone, the Prime Minister, because he is the head of the Executive, was wrong and utterly disrespectful in his statement despite his freedom of speech under the Constitution. He is the Prime Minister and he must always deport himself as such with the high office that he holds. There is no excuse for such behavior and his minions and mindless supporters need to understand that. He might be the “World Boss” to them, but he must have respect for the court.
Now this brings me to his ridiculous and illogical justification for the statement. In trying to justify his statement, he has submitted that because NAMCO would have to pay the debt and it would have consequences for the country, then he has every right to point that out. Now dear rational citizens of Antigua and Barbuda, even if the Prime Minister is right in that view, is that the way to point that out by attacking the Judiciary and bringing it into disrepute? I say the answer to that question is a resounding NO.
Also, quite troubling is his rationalisation, spinning and counter-factual arguments that he resorts to to justify his outrageous statement against the Judiciary. What he is now submitting to justify his statement is that Brother “B” Baptiste made a similar statement when he said after the Judge’s ruling in an election petition case “that if the Judge was in Jamaica she would not be able to leave the court.” The statement by Brother “B” Baptiste was illadvised and should not have been made. However, there is no comparison between what Brother “B” said and the Prime Minister’s statement. The Prime Minister is the head of the Eecutive arm of government and more is expected of him as Prime Minister. A Prime Minister must lead by example in everything he says or does. Mr Prime Minister no amount of spinning and rationalisation can absolve you from this one. Please be a man and apologise on your Saturday soapbox on Pointe FM. Your statement was inappropriate, outrageous and unwarranted. I will finish by beseeching you to please act with the decorum and civility that your high office demands. Wrong cannot be Right!