PLANS to begin building an official residence for the Chief Justice, as currently formulated by Udecott, should be re-examined.
They are not only poorly timed, but also remarkably ill-conceived – completely at odds with the ethos of the judiciary and with the justice system’s ongoing experience of severe resource limitations.
We do not begrudge any public official their entitlement to be properly remunerated for their services to the country, including suitable and appropriate accommodation and allowances.
We accept that many facilities earmarked for official use are often neglected or in a state of ill-repair or outdated, reflecting poorly on the offices to which they relate and by extension the country at large.
We concur that there may never be a perfect time to enhance, in any way, the terms and conditions of public officials, many of whom receive salaries or sign up to conditions that do not compare with what pertains in the private sector.
But the proposal to start construction of this project, to be funded at an undisclosed cost out of the Public Sector Investment Programme, completely contradicts the overall message of fiscal restraint and responsibility outlined by the State this week.
As he raised fuel prices on Monday through the withdrawal of the fuel subsidy, Finance Minister Colm Imbert told the country to be grateful. Things, he suggested, could be worse.
Mr Imbert also told protesting public servants they will simply have to make do.
And property owners are to expect taxes to return.
But tucked away in the budget documents was the disclosure that this project, involving “the design, construction and outfitting of super-grade housing,” is to proceed.
According to Udecott, the official residence will include “living areas, sleeping quarters, study and library, prayer room, fitness centre, swimming pool and indoor and outdoor entertainment facilities befitting the Office of the Chief Justice.”
At a time when the judiciary itself – despite enjoying recent resource allocations such as new premises at the Waterfront – is struggling to make ends meet, given an enormous backlog of cases, Udecott’s description of this project itself is outrageously tone-deaf, like the plan itself to have a state agency build a swimming pool for a sitting chief justice in the middle of a guava season.
It seems to prioritise the notion of a chief justice holding court, as opposed to presiding over one.
We do not impute any improper motives to any official involved in this project. But Udecott, which says it was “tasked” with this project “following a competitive tender process,” should clarify the basis of its mandate.
Whatever its more immediate provenance – and this project may well have origins going back decades – this project should not, in its current form, proceed now.