T&T: Calls for dismissal of two ministers
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Sept 29, CMC – Seventeen organisations, including the main opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) and the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM), have called for the immediate dismissal of two senior government ministers including the Attorney General Anand Ramlogan as the debate continues over the early implementation of certain clauses of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act.
The groups ended a meeting late on Friday night where they discussed the early implementation of section 34 of the act that critics say was aimed at ensuring the fraud cases against two government party financiers were dropped.
In a joint statement issued after the talks, the groups, which also included the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), a former partner of the coalition People’s Partnership government, said that they wanted a “proper explanation for the surreptitious proclamation of Section 34 of Act No 20 of 2011” as well as “the immediate removal of the Attorney General and the Minister of National Security (Austin “Jack” Warner”.
“We are committed to further action to ensure that these actions are met,” the groups said without elaborating.
In their statement, they said that there committed to “fundamental changes in the system of governance in general and we commit to continue discussions, particularly on constitutional reform.
“We also commit to continue our cooperation and collaboration on these matters in the interest of good governance and the pursuit of ethical standards in Trinidad and Tobago”.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar dismissed her justice minister Herbert Volney claiming he had misled 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 section 34 of the Act.
The government earlier this month called an emergency session of parliament to repeal 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
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, 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.
Their attorneys have petitioned the local court to have the charges against them dismissed citing Section 34 of the Act.
Meanwhile, Acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith, in an unprecedented statement issued here, has presented the findings of an investigation he conducted into the affair in the wake of a petition submitted by the Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley on September 18.
Hamel-Smith, who is also President of the Senate, said the controversial clause should never have been made law under his watch as Senate President. “With hindsight, I am clear that Section 34 of the Act (as amended in the Senate and then passed in both Houses) was fundamentally flawed.
“It was simply wrong for legislation to be passed which imposed a time limit for the prosecution of indictable crimes which would start to run from the date of the alleged offence, without at least (i) excluding serious white collar crimes, including corruption and money laundering; or (ii) permitting the court to exercise its discretion dependent on the facts of each case.
“As the Presiding Officer at the time this Act was passed in the Senate, I feel a sense of personal responsibility to ensure that this failure on the part of our Parliamentary System, of which I am an integral part, does not recur,” Hamel-Smith said.
He said that he considered that “it is my duty to do whatever I can to assist the nation and its citizens to consider the lessons that are available to be learnt from this situation in which flawed legislation was passed and brought into force by proclamation.”
Hamel-Smith, an attorney, has recommended certain steps be taken to bolster Parliament’s ability to scrutinise legislation. He says parliamentarians are currently “overburdened”.
“Drawing on my experience in my dual roles as President of the Senate and Acting President, there are a number of suggestions that I wish to make, with a view to avoiding any recurrence of the failure of our Parliamentary System in permitting flawed legislation to be passed and proclaimed”.
He suggests a reform of the process by which a law is proclaimed, inserting a special section on acts which records any assurances made on the Parliament floor by the executive Government in relation to the law in question as well as making all legislators full-time.
He is also suggesting an increase in the number of non-executive MPs to at least 100 and giving Parliament more legal advisers.
“I strongly recommend swift implementation so that this blot on our parliamentary system of government will never recur.
“I believe that the introduction of the governance measures and procedures outlined above, would go a long way to restoring the confidence of the people in our political systems and allow for an improved system of governance from which our citizens will derive tangible benefits,” he added.