Panday: Silk issue speaks to transparency, accountability

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Mickela Panday. – File photo

PATRIOTIC Front political leader Mickela Panday says there is a bigger issue to be addressed when it comes to the award of silk to attorneys.

That issue is transparency, accountability and meritocracy.

She claimed neither the government nor the opposition wants these standards to be met when it comes to the award of silk.

On June 17, 13 attorneys were awarded senior counsel status at a ceremony at President’s House, St Ann’s.

Among them were Rural Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi and Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland. Energy Minister Stuart Young was awarded silk in a separate ceremony on June 20.

In a statement on June 21, Panday said the award of silk to highly paid lawyers is not an important matter to the majority of citizens because it is a far cry from the daily struggles they all face.

Despite this, she continued, “This colonial award to a select few has continued to dominate the headlines.”

Panday said there is a reason for this: “the blatant, open hypocrisy that is repeated in the award of silk regardless of which of the two parties (PNM, UNC) (is) in power.”

She acknowledged that some of the attorneys who received silk deserved the award.

But Panday added, “It simply reeks of distrust without an independent selection panel.

“What is clear is that neither the government nor the opposition is interested in transparency, accountability or meritocracy, and they are happy for the current state of affairs to continue.

“In the end, it is the people who have the power, and they will decide if this is what they want for the future of our country.”

In addressing the attorneys receiving silk on June 17, President Christine Kangaloo said the title of senior counsel was an honour for attorneys which was recognised by the courts.

She added that the process of awarding silk is guided by the terms contained in the February 15, 1964 edition of the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette (Order No. 282 of 1964).

“Under those arrangements, the process begins with the Attorney General, as the titular head of the Bar, inviting attorneys at law who consider themselves eligible, to apply to be awarded silk. A list of applicants is compiled.”

Kangaloo said the Attorney General then consults with the Chief Justice and anyone else he considers necessary.

The AG then makes recommendations to the Prime Minister.

Kangaloo said, “The PM considers the AG’s recommendations and advises the President on the attorneys at law who are to be awarded silk.

“At the end of the process, the President acts in accordance with Section 80 (1) of the Constitution, and, on an occasion like today, formally confers the honorific title of ‘senior counsel’ on those upon whom he or she has been advised to do so.”

Section 80 (1) says the President acts in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or a minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet, except in cases where provisions are made in the Constitution or any other law which allow the President to act in his/her discretion, after consultation with any person or authority other than the Cabinet or in accordance with the advice of any person or authority other than the Cabinet.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar was awarded silk in 2011, when she was prime minister.

Then attorney general Anand Ramlogan, SC, defended the award as something which was traditionally made to people in high public office, saying they were not required to submit an application to be considered.

Ramlogan also received silk in 2011.

He defended his award by saying three of his predecessors – Karl Hudson-Phillips, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and John Jeremie – all received silk while in office.

“In many countries in the Commonwealth (Barbados and Jamaica for example) the established practice is for the AG to take silk. I have done hundreds of appeals, amassed 45 Privy Council cases, and did many historic constitutional and human-rights cases. Few can deny I got it on merit.”

In 2012, Persad-Bissessar said she would not return her silk because other recipients over the last 50 years would have to do the same.