Monday, September 08, 2008

Pure legal brilliance on the shameful DPP appointment

We live in a country where many important public officers are functioning in an acting capacity. We have an acting Chancellor, Chief Justice, Commissioner of Police and Auditor General among others. Against this background one would have thought that when acting Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack was appointed to the substantive position of DPP by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) this would have made the headlines either through the GINA medium or the goodly doctor's weekly press briefing. It made neither.

In an ordinary world such an appointment would hardly raise eyebrows since the average citizen would readily assume that such an important constitutional office would be filled by the most competent and qualified applicant through a transparent and procedurally proper process. Moreover, the selection and appointment is done by an august and highly venerated constitutional body known as the Judicial Services Commission.

Regrettably, the appointment of the DPP leaves more questions than answers. Here is a background to the appointment.

In late 2005 there was a public advertisement placed in the newspapers inviting applications for the office of DPP. There were two applications. Shalimar Ali-Hack who was acting DPP applied and Arif Bulkan, a brilliant and highly respected local lawyer submitted his application by hand on 12th January 2006 to Mrs. Chandra Jagnandan the Secretary of the JSC. His application was accompanied by recommendations by two Justices of Appeal: Justice Ian Chang S.C. and Justice Claudette Singh. At the time Arif was in the final year of the PhD programme at the Osgoode Hall Law School in Canada. The JSC never formally acknowledged receipt of Bulkan's application and he never heard from them.

The rest of 2006 passed as well as 2007 without any communication to Bulkan. In April of 2008 the JSC met and quietly confirmed Ali-Hack to the substantive position of DPP. Reliable sources have informed me that the application of Bulkan was never considered at that April meeting or at any previous meeting. In fact, the members of the Commission were told that there was only one application –that of Ali-Hack. This appointment never made the news until June when Stabroek News alone carried an article on the confirmation. The JSC never saw it fit to even interview Mr. Bulkan. One would expect where there are two applications for a position then both applicants would be interviewed unless the credentials of the second applicant are so unimpressive so as to render consideration and an interview wholly unnecessary.

However, in the instant case the credentials of Bulkan are preeminent both academically and professionally. Dr. Bulkan is a legal scholar par excellence. He has now graduated with a PhD in Law from Osgoode Hall Law School in Canada joining an elite few of brilliant Guyanese lawyers with doctorates such as Dr. Fenton Ramsahoye, Dr. Mohamed Shahabudeen, Dr. Bertie Ramcharran and Dr. Barton Scotland.

Prior to that Dr. Bulkan graduated with a Masters in Law from University College London, University of London with a distinction. He served for many years in the DPP Chambers under acting DPP Ian Chang leaving as Assistant DPP to become a magistrate. After serving for some time as a magistrate he resigned to pursue a career in private practice. He has eighteen years of practice at the Bar.

I don't think any decent Guyanese citizen could object to a process that is transparent where two applicants are considered, interviewed and the better candidate chosen. However, these circumstances demonstrate that proper procedure was not followed. The JSC only considered one application and completely ignored/discarded Dr. Bulkan's application.

In my humble opinion Dr. Bulkan was the more eminently qualified candidate and it is a travesty that the JSC did not see it fit to extend the courtesy of formally acknowledging receipt of his application and inviting him for an interview. He would have shone and in my opinion the disparity would have been so great there would have been no other alternative but to recognise that he was the more qualified applicant. Further, it is also my opinion that Dr. Arif Bulkan would have been the breath of fresh air – indeed the renaissance – to revitalise a deeply stagnated DPP's Chambers. He would have met regularly with the young State Counsel providing the necessary guidance and legal stewardship they so desperately need. In short, he would have been able to provide the requisite and necessary leadership to lift those Chambers out of the oblivion that it has sank to thus enabling the Chambers to realise its true potential and fulfil its statutory mandate.

Guyana is much poorer for not allowing men of the calibre of Dr. Bulkan to serve his country. He has now taken up a position at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus to teach law. We wish him well in his endeavours. It is indeed sad that while we are complaining about a paucity of available human resources and the brain drain phenomenon; ironically, we are actively encouraging the most brilliant of us to seek employment outside of the shores of Guyana. Does this sound familiar?

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