Kamla wants to opt out of Carib court
Carib Wise Men urge Kamla to go easy on CCJ
By Bert Wilkinson
In recent days, Kamla Persad-Bissesar, Trinidad and Tobago’s new head of government has given strong signals that that her People’s Partnership administration is unhappy with the high costs of hosting and maintaining the five-year-old Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and may take the issue of the country becoming a CCJ member to referendum.
The prime minister’s announcement, as she reviews decisions made by the past Patrick Manning administration, has sent political shock waves across the region, forcing some of its most prominent citizens or so-called “Wise Men” to urge authorities there not to take “retrogressive steps.”
They interpret her signals as retrogression because they fear a referendum could threaten the very existence of a court that was designed to replace British Privy Council as the region’s final court of appeal, a dream of several independence Caribbean leaders like Burnham, Williams and Manley.
As it stands now, only Guyana, Barbados and most recently Belize, subscribe to the CCJ as their final court of arbitration.
Its ironical that host, Trinidad,is not counted among them, nor is Jamaica and the smaller Eastern Caribbean sub-grouping. These either claim the need for referenda or the requirement of a two-thirds parliamentary vote to abandon the British, or both.
Persad-Bissesar’s recent remarks have also induced Opposition Leader Keith Rowley to come to the defense of the court and to defend the previous decision to lobby for Port of Spain as its headquarters.
“For the PNM, this is an issue of principle, not opportunism,” he said, pointing to the need for the region to complete its independence rather than having jurists far away in England determining the fate of regional citizens.
Ironically as well, the court was established while the prime minister’s predecessor and party leader, Basdeo Panday, was at the helm of government, but it seems as though the future of the court is being rendered as uncertain by the approach of the new administration.
The result as the Barbados Nation reported at the weekend, is that prominent Caribbean citizens: Sir George Alleyne, former head of the Pan American Health Organization, Sir Shridath Ramphal, former three-term Commonwealth secretary general and ex-Guyana foreign minister, retired Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, past CARICOMSecretary General Sir Alister McIntyre and Dominica’s President Nicholas Liverpool,have all banded together to issue a statement urging Trinidad to think again.
“We wish particularly to correct the inference that Trinidad and Tobago is carrying a disproportionate cost of the CCJ,” the regional “Wise Men” said in a joint release,noting that a regional trust fund was set up by leaders and framers to finance operations of the court, including judges’ salaries.
Trade-bloc member states are responsible for fundingspecific portions of the court’s costs, based on agreed criteria that includes GDP and population size.
Trinidad and Tobago is responsible for US$36.1M, Jamaica for US$28.7M, Barbados for US$13.5 M and Guyana for US$8.8M. The smaller Eastern islands and Belize are asked to come up with US$2.2M each.
The group also called for calm, saying that “any attempt to create a climate of hostility to the court by distortions in the country of the court’s location is serious in itself. When it is accompanied by suggestions of creating a national court of appeal in place of the CCJ, the implications for the people of the Caribbean, including Trinidad and Tobago, become stark and troubling,” they said as debate in Trinidad builds.