EDITORIAL – Development and law
IN A RECENT SPEECH to the Barbados Workers’ Union 69th Annual General Conference, retired Chief Justice Sir David Simmons spoke of his perspective on the major developments which have taken place in the last 50 years and the factors which have contributed thereto.It was an important statement which needs to be given further publicity. Sir David is in a position to speak with authority on this topic, since he has been at the centre or near the centre of the corridors of policymaking and power since the early 1970s and he has straddled the avenues of the legislature and the Cabinet and has been a holder of high judicial office. He has therefore had the opportunity to observe most, if not all, aspects of the society from a vantage point afforded very few of us.He included self-reliance and determination, the role of key pieces of legislation including social security, trade union legislation, social economic and financial services legislation, the contribution of the public service, free education, and the advancement of the status of women particularly in the last 30 years as contributing factors to the rapid development of our country.He considered to be of the highest importance laws such as the Financial Administration and Audit Act which seek to eliminate corruption, which he thinks are to the detriment of a country where such misbehaviour and practices are endemic.Yet important as the speech was, it is when Sir David moved from the particular to the general that we most closely identified with his views. He regards “the rule of law in its broadest terms as the foundation of a fair and just society and an important contributor to socio economic growth and development”. We applaud this timely restatement of a fundamental truth which is so often obscured when some well-meaning but wrong-headed members of the society advance arguments for preferential treatment for this or that group based on misplaced sentiments which are in sync with certain emotional tenets but wholly out of step with the law. This is a critical truth which must be reinforced in a society which is under threat from influences foreign to our culture.Sir David may not have spelt it out in detail, but it is the rule of law that allows every worker to associate with his fellow workers if he so feels, and to feel secure that neither his personal freedom nor his property can be taken from him otherwise than in accordance with the law. It is also the law that prevents the rich man from purchasing the poor man as his slave, and equally protects the property of the businessman from rapacious seizure by the poor or less well off; but it is equally the role of the law to equalise opportunities, and any legacy of historical imbalances can only be redressed by due compliance with the law.This general protection of the law is found in our Constitution, and it is little wonder that Sir David said that the Independence Constitution “must be seen as providing a structure of governance within which the people and country as a whole have been able to develop.”We agree with this view, and we also concur with the learned jurist’s observation that by and large “politicians and the average citizen have been strict adherents to constitutional propriety and the rule of law”.Given its seminal importance to each one of us, we therefore urge the widest possible dissemination of the basic meanings of our Constitution to our citizens and particularly to our schoolchildren. Georges Bidault, a former prime minister of France, once famously said: the good or bad fortune of a nation depends on three factors: its constitution, the way the constitution is made to work, and the respect it inspires. We must not take our good fortune for granted.