EDITORIAL: Discussion needed on AG’s function
FROM THIS DISTANCE, the political intrigue which has unfolded in Trinidad and Tobago with a major cabinet reshuffle may seem at first glance to be nothing more than a purely domestic issue as the twin-island nation prepares for general elections this year. However, careful observation suggests Barbadians should pay close attention to these developments since there is a lesson to be learnt.
That Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had to dismiss her attorney general and a few other members of her administration may on the surface seem nothing more than the now customary changes she has made to her administration since it took office in May 2010.
But it is the removal of Anand Ramlogan as attorney general that should cause not just political scientists and legal professionals to take careful note, but kindle interest among every citizen in the good governance of nations across the English-speaking Caribbean. After all, the holder of this legal office, besides that of prime minister, is of the greatest importance in our system of parliamentary government.
As the chief legal adviser to the Crown, the attorney general must always be seen as above defending narrow political interests and masters. In an ideal situation, the office-holder should not be caught up in the rabid partisan politics of the day. He or she must be the guardian of the public’s interest in all legal matters, while ensuring the office retains the public’s confidence and trust.
In the case of Mr Ramlogan, he appeared to have been simply too deep
in political controversy during his tenure as chief legal adviser in the People’s Partnership coalition government. While there may be only unsubstantiated claims against him – and up to this stage he must be presumed innocent – the mere fact that there is a police investigation into allegations against him placed him
in an untenable situation.
Mrs Persad-Bissessar did the right thing in putting distance between her government and Mr Ramlogan.
This development highlights why the role of an overarching attorney general must be very carefully looked at and reviewed. While it has become the practice and custom in Barbados for the attorney general to be a member of Cabinet with full voting rights, and retaining a portfolio not limited to matters primarily concerned with legislation and the administration
of justice, it raises concerns. If the system of checks and balances must not be undermined, it is fair to wonder whether the prevailing approach serves the best interest of the wider public.
We have been spared the imbroglio which has shaken Trinidad, but it must not become our Achilles heel. This is where we need a real public discussion on the important function of the attorney general. The debate cannot be only between legal minds and theorists, but must also involve the wider public.