FINANCE BY DAVID WALKER ACCOUNTANT & DATABASE EXPERT
It delights me to praise attorney Clive Phelps for his selfless action in declining a long service award from the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT). The nation owes him a huge debt of gratitude for highlighting one of the problems that resides at the epicentre of the problems that the nation faces.
I note the words of Mr. Phelps as reported by Shane Superville in the Newsday last week. “VETERAN attorney Clive Phelps has declined a long-service award from LATT citing the association’s failure to live up to its responsibility to the public, to obtain redress for prisoners languishing in the Remand Yard prison for decades without trial.”
The report continued “Having received a letter from LATT president Douglas Mendes, SC, in October about the award, set to be given at the association’s annual dinner, Phelps replied on Monday outlining the reason for his decision to “humbly” decline the award. A copy of Phelps’ letter to Mendes was forwarded to Newsday in which he accused the Law Association and, by extension, the Judiciary of failing to fulfill its mandate.”
The report quoted from Phelps’ letter to LATT Phelps wrote, “I am constrained in good conscience, to humbly decline accepting an honour to be bestowed on me by an organisation charged with the responsibility of protecting and assisting members of the public in matters relating to law, promoting good relations between the profession and those concerned with the administration of justice, which has failed miserably in its responsibility to the public to obtain redress for prisoners languishing in the Remand Yard for decades without trial, or to support the administration of justice by pressing for the reform of an outdated prison system.”
He also said every attorney should feel regret for the state of the criminal justice system and criticised attorneys for their arrogance.
“It should be a matter of personal regret for every lawyer that our criminal justice system is what it is, that the conduct of our judiciary, for the most part, is marked by arrogance and a profound misunderstanding of its role to be impartial adjudicators of disputes.
“Our beloved profession’s standards have plummeted to the point where cases are won and lost without any regard to the legal merits or the truth and public confidence in the judiciary falls below that of the TT Police Service.”
Every one of Mr Phelps’ observations is shared by most people in the country
Every one of Mr. Phelps’ observations is shared by most people in the country. The problems he references affect us all and we should expect our highly trained professionals to lead the way in offering solutions. In reality, we have not even been offered discussions, learned or otherwise, on these pressing matters. Is it a fear of upsetting the political leaders of the day that prevents or highly trained professionals from discharging what I consider to be a critical part of their professional responsibilities?
“I invite you to consider whether, in fact, none of our attorneys understood the effects of the notorious Section 34 when it was proclaimed or before? Attorneys for the persons involved in the Piarco matter certainly understood and quickly exploited it. With the notable exception of Elton Prescott SC in the Senate, nary a word of enlightenment was heard. Why do we have no tradition of our leading attorneys sharing opinion on controversial of just plain bad legislation in a manner that would assist Parliamentarians in avoiding distressing the nation with bad laws with grave consequences?”
Where is LATT (and its prominent members) when we have an open need for their intervention? I refer you again to the recent remarks of a High Court judge when passing judgment in the appeal by Afra Raymond for documents to be provided under the Freedom of Information Act. Here are the judge’s comments.
“115. This Court is of the view that there is reasonable evidence in the public domain as evidenced by the information previously placed before the courts, in other court matters which involve the bailout, which raises legitimate concerns and questions as to whether financial irregularities and or overpayments may have occurred. In addition, the possible abuse of authority and/or neglect in the performance of official duties by the Directors of CL Financial Limited and its subsidiaries, CMMB, CIB, CLICO and British-American Insurance is also an issue which needs to be addressed and if established, culpable persons should be held to account.
- The fact that a Commission of Inquiry was formed in order to carry out such an investigation fortifies this Court’s view that there exists an undeniable public interest in ascertaining and understanding the multiplicity of failures and factors which led to the collapse of these financial institutions and there is an equal need to ensure that no irregularities occurred during the bailout. The decision not to disclose the contents of the Commission’s report is one which should urgently be reviewed in the public interest.”
How could the Law Association and our leading attorneys have nothing to say about a matter of such transparent magnitude? Is it because the politicians (of both major parties) prefer not to discuss this matter? Or is it simply that their policy is not to venture opinion on any issues whatsoever? I am of the certain view that LATT is failing spectacularly to live up to the professional standards that they claim to uphold when they behave in this way. They fail the nation and may I add, they bear significant responsibility for the state in which we find ourselves at this time.
Our professional classes have failed us
They are not alone though. In the same CLICO matter, we have the abject performance of our well (over)paid Accountancy firms, most notably Price Waterhouse Coopers and KPMG without whose failures we would not have had to deal with the disasters of the collapse in the first instance and secondly the abuse of public and private funds during the rescue in the second instance.
How can one rationalise the near certainty of malfeasance as expressed by the judge with a lack of comment by the highly paid Accountants? In preparing the annual accounts and doing the annual audits did they not encounter the abuse that so troubled the learned judge? Are we really to accept such a preposterous notion?
While looking at the accountants and their professional body (ICATT), where were they while Petrotrin directors were spending twelve billion dollars on worthless projects. Why did the management and audited accounts not highlight the problem long before the cost reached stratospheric levels? Why did the government, as shareholder, not test the possible professional and legal liability of the accounting firms for their failure? Those failures cost us billions of dollars.
It distresses me to say that across the board, our professional classes have remained silent in the face of situations where they ought to be leading. I could not agree with Mr. Phelps any more than I do. He does deserve an award. That award should be from the nation, in gratitude for his selfless act. I live in hope that others will find the courage to follow his example.