I had a warm relation with Bernard De Santos for over 25 years. There is one recurring echo he had about me – I would make a good lawyer. Bernard was a ‘down-to-earth’ professional. He was senior counsel and one of the top names in the society of lawyers but he kept his personality display simple and modest.
He was the type of minister of government that I could have telephoned at any hour to ask a favour and I did just that when he was Attorney-General.
We became more familiar with each other after his second wife became my student at UG. I have had long philosophical reflections with Bernard and through those dialogues, I learnt that what Freud once said – you can never understand the human being.
It so happened that after his Cabinet career was over, he turned up at the Council of the University of Guyana as the appointee from the legal profession while I served the union’s interests on the Council. It was at one of the Council’s meeting when we had our first disagreement. And here is where I saw how different human minds can be when those minds belong to different spheres of human activities.
I tabled a motion for one of the statutes governing the university to be removed. When the statutes were composed in 1963, the union was awarded a seat in the Council. But the framers for some esoteric reason prevented the union’s representative from being an academic. When I became a Council member, I thought this was one of the most bizarre discoveries I made about my country.
Why would the statutes prevent a learned academic, a trained mind, an educated person from defending the interest of its members at the university? In 1963 to 2009, the union appointee on the Council had to be a clerical employee like a clerk or a typist but certainly not an academic. These people were intimidated by the senior administrators who would shout them down. It meant academics did not have proper representation on industrial issues.
In 2009, my motion was tabled. No one around the table argued against my proposition that an academic should be accepted from the union to sit on the Council to defend the interests of union members.
Only one person opposed the motion – Bernard De Santos. When it was his time to speak, I can still vividly recall his brief words that lasted for a few seconds. This is what he told the meeting – “the people who made that decision must have known what they were doing, they put it there for a reason.”
The motion was successful. After the meeting, I approached him by his car. I said to him, “Bernard, how could you have opposed something so logical?” He explained to me that I am too philosophical but he is a lawyer. He went on to indicate that lawyers don’t tamper with tradition, they respect it.
This incident didn’t change my opinion of or my relation with Bernard. Then the unthinkable happened. President Jagdeo’s lawyer in his libel suit against me, Anil Nandlall, became the Attorney-General and Bernard became Jagdeo’s lawyer. I know and felt it that Bernard was uneasy with this position. From 2012 onwards, Bernard showed no inclination to pursue the case asking for postponement from time to time that stalled the case indefinitely.
I was sitting in the hallway of the magistrate’s court while he was waiting for a case to be called. He was defending an American teenager charged with trafficking in narcotics. I had to ask why agree to do the case.
I put the question to him. Up to this day, I never understood his reason and frankly I think it incomprehensible. He said he was not interested in pursuing the case; it is a non-issue for him but Jagdeo asked him and he did it for Cheddi Jagan. I was stunned but was smiling. I responded; ‘But Bernard, what Cheddi’s got to do with you taking the case?”
He said I was wild and inexperienced and that there are things in life I am too young to understand. I said, ‘Lecture me Bernard.”
He intoned that the PPP is Cheddi’s party and that he owes an eternal debt to Cheddi, which he will not explain. He went on to add that he saw Jagdeo’s request in the context of the PPP and the PPP is Cheddi Jagan. Eventually, Bernard did walk away from the libel case. I knew it was not in his heart. He was a nice guy but a strange personality; one of the great lawyers Guyana will miss.
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