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T&T: Gov’t and opposition spar on censure motion

T&T: Gov’t and opposition spar on censure motion Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley speaking on the motion to censure the attorney general. (FP)

Fri, October 26, 2012 - 5:34 PM

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Oct 26, CMC – The Trinidad and Tobago government signalled its intention to close ranks and defend the embattled Attorney General Anand Ramlogan from an opposition inspired motion of censure, by predicting it would “fail miserably” and was “ill conceived as well as null and void”.

Leader of Government Business, Dr. Roodal Moonilal, told Parliament on Friday that the motion filed by Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley against the attorney general for his role in the early proclamation of Section 34 of the controversial Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act, “was loud in condemnation but soft in specifics.

“What are the charges. What are the merits in there (motion) that today is the last working day of the attorney general,” asked Moonilal in his presentation and prompted by government legislators including Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar.

Parliament last month repealed the controversial clause that had the effect of allowing people, whose trial has not started after a 10-year period to walk free and a verdict of not guilty entered against them.

Critics, including the main opposition People’s National Movement (PNM), say that it was aimed at supporting businessmen Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, who have been described as financiers of the ruling United National Congress (UNC), the biggest partner in the four-member coalition People’s Partnership government.

The two are facing fraud and laundering charges relating to the re-development of the Piarco International Airport in 2001. They are also wanted in the United States on a number of related charges.

Washington, which had sought the extradition of the two men, has already expressed its “concerns” ober the legislation.

The attorneys for the two men have petitioned the local court to have the charges against them dismissed citing Section 34 of the Act.

In his motion, Rowley said that Ramlogan, who under the constitution is responsible for the administration of legal affairs in the country, “participated” in the presentation of the legislation to parliament and reneging on certain assurance “thereby   prematurely  bringing  into  force  an  amnesty  with  consequences  for  certain  legal proceedings involving certain persons.

“As a consequence of this series of developments there is widespread unease, anger, disappointment and a general sense of loss of confidence in the attorney general among a  large cross-section of the national population,” Rowley said, calling on Parliament to approve the motion that would force Prime Minister Persad Bissessar “ to immediately relieve” Ramlogan of his duties.

“This matter is a matter of conversation of virtually every household in Trinidad and Tobago,” Rowley told legislators, giving a “historical background” into the “conspiracy” by the government to ensure the release of the persons before the court.

He dismissed suggestions by the government that the passage of the legislation and the early proclamation were an “oversight” adding “it is clear that the attorney general ought to have known that Section 34 would free” the UNC financiers.

“If one person who knew what would come down the pipeline on Section 34 was the attorney general,” Rowley said, noting that Ramlogan had several opportunities to “pull back” the offending clause and “take steps to ensure that Section 34 was amended to ensure a trial”.

Rowley said the action of the attorney general was tantamount to a “gross dereliction of duty” and as a result “the nation cannot trust this attorney general” going forward.

“The attorney general knew that was Section 34 was proclaimed these persons,” Rowley said, adding that the opposition would not “buy this half baked duck.

“It was a conspiracy, it was a brilliant strategy,” he said, noting that the “amnesty” had to include the Parliament even though based on the assurances given by the government “we never expected that would happen.

“When the law was put there, our vote was obtained on the basis of our concerns would be met,” he said, accusing the government “of undermining our institutions”.

But in his response to the motion, Moonilal described the motion as “sinister” and “reeks of hypocrisy” saying it was also based on “anger and hate”.

He said the genesis of the motion dates back to the failed motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Persad Bissessar six months ago and predicted that the opposition would continue with their strategy “every six months to take every minister one at a time and hope you can build a campaign outside”.

He dismissed the opposition suggestion that the attorney general had a leading role in the formulation and passage of the bill, saying it was “always in the domain of the Ministry of Justice”.

Prime Minister Persad Bissessar fired former High Court judge, Herbert Volney, the holder of that office after accusing him of misleading Cabinet on misleading the Cabinet when he said that the Chief Justice Ivor Archie and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Roger Gaspard had supported the idea of the early proclamation of clause.

“They (the opposition) believe that Section 34 will return the PNM to power. That and a green monkey they will not see,’ Moonilal said, adding that the issues surrounding the legislation had been well ventilated throughout the country.

“Why did they vote for the bill? Who were you trying to protect,” he asked, adding “at the end of the day people will support this government because this is the only government when a mistake is made, takes corrective action,” he said.

Moonilal predicted that the motion would “fail miserably not because of the majority of the government” but because it “is sinister and reeks of hypocrisy”.

The debate is continuing in the Trinidad and Tobago parliament. It comes a few days before opposition political groups, trade unions, and non- governmental organisations plan a march in the capital on November 4 calling for the removal of Ramlogan and National Security Minister Austin “Jack” Warner.

 

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