Should The Chief Justice Declare Any Ownership Interest In The Nation News Or Other Media?
Should An Attorney General Declare Any Ownership Interest In News Media?
What About Close Family Members?
We never even thought about it until we witnessed a conversation between four different readers in the comments section of our article Heard On The Streets Of Bridgetown, Barbados. A reader “John Doe” stated that Chief Justice David Simmons is “one of the largest shareholders of the Nation corporation and Starcom network.”
For the moment, let’s forget about whether this statement is true or not as it relates to David Simmons – while we generally consider the ethical and conflict of interest questions that are at the heart of the issue.
In Barbados, Newspaper Owners Are Big Frogs In A Small Pond
In a small country like Barbados, enormous influence can be exerted through the relatively small local media outlets. Consequently, those who hold significant ownership interests in the local media can influence national events in a manner that is totally out of proportion to their relatively small investment. Think of it this way – in the United States, owning say, 25% of a newspaper the size of our Nation News wouldn’t count much more than spit on the sidewalk in terms of national influence – but here in Barbados a 25% share of the Nation News would make the owner a very big frog in our small pond.
Should any media ownership be declared by the Chief Justice, Attorney General or any Cabinet Minister in Barbados?
We think so.
Our democracy seems to be increasingly fragile and common sense dictates that citizens should at the very least be aware of conflicts of interest in our society. This media ownership issue is relevant for all Government Ministers, but especially so for the Attorney General who must wear many hats – some of them seemingly in direct conflict with his presumed political loyalties. The Attorney General has a duty to uphold the law and this theoretically can put him in conflict with members of his own party who are either under suspicion or before the courts for any reason.
The Office Of The Chief Justice Must Appear To Be Impartial And Non-Political… Oops!
It goes without saying that the Chief Justice and the Office Of Chief Justice must remain above issues of politics and partisanship of any kind if he or she is not only to properly discharge their duties, but also be seen and perceived to be impartial. As we have stated many times before, that is the foundation of our objection to the appointment of David Simmons as Chief Justice. No matter what his qualifications, wisdom, integrity or his personal desire to properly fulfill his duties, his instant transformation from Attorney General and Government Cabinet Minister to Chief Justice was highly inappropriate and even unethical.
Sir David Anthony Carthcart Simmons K.A., B.C.H., Q.C., LL.M., Chief Justice Of Barbados served continuously for 25 years in the Parliament of Barbados from February 1970 to 27 August 2001, on which date he retired from active politics. He twice served as Attorney General – from 1985 to 1986 and from September 1994 to August 2001.
On many occasions during the latter period, Sir David acted as Prime Minister of Barbados.
As Attorney-General, Sir David chaired many initiatives and conferences, including the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (1997/98); the Joint US/Caribbean Sub-Committee which developed a Plan of Action on Justice and Security issues; the Regional Committee for the establishment of a project for Maritime Cooperation Against the Traffic In Illicit Narcotic Drugs in the Caribbean (1999-2002); and the Preparatory Committee to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice (1999-2001).
For his contribution to public service and politics, he was awarded both the Barbados Centennial Honour (B.C.H.) and the Knight of St. Andrew (K.A.) in 2001. Sir David Simmons is married to former High Court Judge, Madame Justice Marie MacCormack. They have two children, Gavin and Lynne-Marie.
… from the website of the Caribbean Court Of Justice (link here)
How can the Chief Justice appear to be impartial if only a few weeks before his appointment he was a senior member of the currently ruling government? How can he reasonably be in charge of a justice system where citizens seek protection from wrongdoing or heavy handedness by government – when he personally took part in so many political campaigns and government initiatives?
David Simmons was part of a government that did, and still does, give out public funds, jobs, cars and other perks to political supporters while penalizing those who support other parties. Merely reading some of his past political comments about other parties and their members would give many persons pause about their ability to now find justice in our courts.
It is our position that David Simmons should not have accepted the office of Chief Justice because his appointment weakened the Office of the Chief Justice – not only for his tenure, but for others who will follow. Once again this is not because Justice Simmons has acted improperly in his office – it is because his appointment lacks the appearance of impartiality.
Now to the question of whether or not Barbados Chief Justice David Simmons owns or owned shares of news media companies now or at any time in the past…
The following conversation took place in our comments section. (link here) …
May 27th, 2007 at 7:00 pm
I guess you guys didn’t know that David Simmons is one of the largest shareholders of the nation corporation and Starcom network. It will be great when the shareholders register of companies finally becomes a public document, then you will be able to see who ones what.
May 28th, 2007 at 1:44 am
Why do you continue to post lies about our CJ? Since some of you follow him so closely, you should recall that on 7 September 1994, when he was sworn in as AG he announced to the press at Government House that he had resigned his directorships in all companies. Go and check the registry of Corporate Affairs. As someome who does know the CJ, I can tell you that he sold his shares in the Nation corporation when he became CJ to prevent even the possibility of a conflict of interest arising. John Doe et al, the depth of your nasty lies is pathetic.
Wishing in Vain
May 28th, 2007 at 4:53 am
What are you suggesting that the CJ sold the shares to his childern for safe keeping???
Vigilante surely you are not so easily misled or fooled.
May 28th, 2007 at 5:07 am
Vigilante, “Go and check the registry of Corporate Affairs” Will we find the files to check or will they be “misplaced”?
Important Issues Raised By Our Readers
In an attempt to defend Chief Justice David Simmons, reader “Vigilante” lets it slip that when Sir David Simmons was Attorney General, he still owned shares of The Nation News.
Assuming that Vigilante’s statement is true, if that isn’t a conflict of interest I don’t know what is. Was the public aware that the newspaper that they depended upon to have some oversight of the government was in fact partially owned by a senior member of Cabinet?
The second question that arises from Vigilante’s statement is …
Who did David Simmons sell his Nation News shares to when he became Chief Justice?
If the Chief Justice sold his shares to a stranger on the open market… no problem.
If he sold them to a “friend” who may sell them back to him one day for the “same price” – we may have a problem.
If David Simmons sold his shares in The Nation News to a family member – we’d call that a “phony” sale done so the Chief Justice could maintain control of his assets while pretending to do the right thing.
Well, Chief Justice Sir David Simmons?
The citizens of Barbados deserve an answer… because the truth matters.