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Burgess on World Bank tribunal


Tony Best

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What’s in a name?That which we call arose by any other name would smell as sweet.
When William Shakespeare asked that question in Romeo And Juliet he was thinkingof love, human frailties and relationships, certainly not aboutissues of economic and social development, eradication of poverty,or jurisprudence. Hundreds of years later, Shakespeare’s questionis still being asked about any name under the sun.
Consider, then, the name “World Bank Administrative Tribunal”. What comes quickly to mind and what does it say about an international financial institution with more than 9 000 employees working in 168 countries? Would the name, for instance, hint at the fact that the Washington-based bank has its own “judicial body” that “is the final stop in the bank’s internal justice system”?  
If your answer is yes, chances are youwould have guessed that the tribunal’s judges are not only carefully chosen by the bank’s president and its executive directors, but are some of the world’s legal luminaries with impeccable credentials and track records.
It is this elite international legal fraternity that Andrew Burgess, a Justice of Appeal in Barbados, has joined and will remain for the next five years. Among his fellow judges is Stephen Schwebel,an American and the tribunal’s president who once sat on the International Court of Justice. Then there is Abdul G. Koroma, whofor almost a decade was a member of the International Courof Justice and beforethat was Sierra Leone’s UnitedNations ambassador.
“I consider it an honour for me and for Barbados and the restof the Caribbean to have been invited to serveon the World Bank Administrative Tribunal,” said Burgess, the first legal expert from the Caribbean appointedto that body.
“I don’t know how international organizations of the size and complexity of the World Bank,the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) would function effectively if they didn’t have administrative tribunals.”
The issues the judicial body tackles run the gamut from pension rights, discriminationin the workplace and compensation to taxes, employee contractual disputes and terms of employment.
“The issues are diverse and can straddle anything you canthink about,” explained Justice Burgess, thefirst graduate of the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Faculty of Law to be appointed dean of the faculty, a position he held for a dozen years. In fact, he was the longest-serving dean of any faculty in the university’s history.
“The thing about international organizations is thatyou can’t bring legalaction against them, generally speaking.As a result, a branchof law has developedto patch that hole. Justas important, their decisions are final.”
He isn’t a stranger to the work of international judicial bodies. He was a member of the IDB’s three-judge administrative tribunal, rising to become its president four years ago.
Charlie Skeete, a retired senior IDB economic adviser, agreed with Burgess that the work of such tribunals was crucial.
“The matters thatare referred to them are very important. Thereare rules, criteria forthe selection of judgesfor the tribunals.
“When it comes to their background, they must be persons of integrity with proper legal qualifications,and they must gainthe acceptance of boththe management and the staff associations of the international institutions. Their rulings are final.”They cannot beseen by either side to be just a rubber stamp for one side or the other,”said Skeete, a former Barbados Ambassadorin Washington.
“It is a very serious thing to be on the World Bank or the IDB tribunal. I have appeared twice before the IDB tribunal as a witness for the bank’s management and for an employee to explain. It would be extremely difficult for anyone to object to the selectionof a person of Justice Burgess’ calibreto a tribunal.”
The author of three legal textbooks,the latest of which entitled Commonwealth Caribbean Company Law, Burgess has written several scholarly articles published by key regional and international law journals. He has also been on several national, regional and international commissions and legal panels. He holds an honours degree in law from the UWI, and a legal education certificate and a Master’s fromthe Osgood Hall Law School of Canada’s York University.

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