This year was no different


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Category: Reflections 24 May 09

For the past three sapodilla seasons, I have not seen much light. This year was no different. I emerge from a dark attic study, blinking my eyes at the unaccustomed glare at two in the afternoon, watch a trail of pink blossoms skim, lift and skid on grass and pavement and remember.


It’s poui season, when the heat gets under your skin, and the hills are daubed with pink and yellow. All the world is not as grey as my study. I started doing an LL B from the University of London when my brother was very ill, and life was a round of chemo and dodge ball with cancer.


A friend, just 19, encouraged me to do this degree from the University of London. Tertiary degrees are now sponsored by the state. It’s one thing that I think could revolutionise this country without the use of guns. I scrambled around for my old liberal arts degree, got into the external studies graduate programme, and it’s been a roller coaster since then. Perhaps, I did it to distract myself from grief, or maybe as the longest procrastination from finishing my “novel,” or to get the law degree my father always wanted me to get.


It wasn’t too late to please him, and frankly, I thought it would be a breeze. I devour words, often simultaneously reading three or four books. I looked at the three study guides my young friend showed me, and thought I could read that in three days. Every lawyer reading this will laugh at my naivety. It took me two days to read two pages of that study guide from London. With every principle there were 50 cases that needed looking up and memorising. English law is convoluted as WASA’s pipes, as unreliable, and able to shut down and rust and poke and surprise. For the first time in my life I had to pay painful attention to detail. Every word meant something, yet every judgment was long-winded.


All the subjects I took—including tort, criminal law, European Union, family and land—came with statute written in impossibly tiny print in intimidating heavy books, covered with turgid language. I didn’t realise the “distraction” would take over my life. I understood why the “law is a jealous mistress.” It was either law or nothing. It would preclude holidays, times with friends, family occasions and PTAs. Job opportunities were lost, and the marathon I wanted to run would no longer be possible. I could see the hurt on people’s faces when I ushered them out of the house so I could get back to the books. My housekeeping (never the best) was entirely neglected and the good husband (there is such a thing!) took over not just as breadwinner, but home-maker and child minder.


I didn’t want him to think that I brought the law to bed, so I began to get up in the night and sit on the bathroom floor with my books to get in that few extra minutes. As English law, a yardstick for regulating a society, took shape in my mind, I saw, imperfect as it was, it worked in England. And our legal system, largely inherited from the British, was crumbling just like our WASA pipes, through neglect. Our “Westminster” system doesn’t work, because we don’t have a working opposition, which has no power and less moral authority.


Our institutions don’t work, because there is no real separation of powers, and the judiciary appears to be splintered along party lines. There is no independence, because the executive is all powerful. There is no transparency, and we are among the highest in the world in the corruption index because there is no accountability, and statutory bodies run through millions without question. The collapse of the integrity commission appointed by the President is a symptom of this, rather than an aberration. The fact is that everyone who gets anywhere counts on a system that doesn’t work.


Whether you are a politician who brokers a corrupt deal; or spends $600 million on a conference while illiterate people live without infrastructure in depressed areas; a man who breaks a traffic light and kills two people; a businessman who, due to his contacts, is able to get away with shooting dead a bandit without an inquiry; a speeding youngster; a gang of gun-toting bandits in broad daylight or midnight; a policeman colluding kidnappers you know the system is not going to work. You are not going to be caught. Nobody is going to be called to account.


There are no heroes to look up to. Academics, scientists, professionals who’ve done it the hard way pulled themselves out of cane fields. Our heroes today are beauty queens, entertainers like Machel Montano, not Dr Eric Williams; chutney singers, not VS Naipaul; Dole Chadee, not CLR James. Even as I learn about the law, it crumbles all about me. If it weren’t for the sapodillas and dusty gold poui sunsets, this would be just another season of darkness—bloodshed, rage among the victims and anarchy.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur