Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Recent events in Trinidad have been like manna from heaven for the newspapers and other media outlets. Whether you call them gaffes, missteps, mistakes, or simply outbreaks of incompetence the latest furore over the proclamation of the now infamous section 34 is revealing about the society as a whole and the fact that our politicians on both sides simply don't seem to get it.

The facts that are in the public domain are as follows:
      (i)  All sides agreed in Parliament that the law needed to be changed 
            to get rid of the archaic system of having preliminary enquiries in
            criminal matters to see whether or not an accused person should
            be made to face a jury of his peers over allegations of criminal
      (ii) A Bill was brought in that effectively dealt with this but it was
            agreed by all that certain things would have to be put in place
            before the Bill could become law;
       (iii) Somebody (or bodies) on the Government side gave an
               undertaking (or undertakings) to the Parliament that the Act
               (when a Bill is passed by Parliament it becomes an Act) would
               not be proclaimed until everything was in place;
       (iv)  It was not going to be possible to put everything on place until
               about January 2013.
        (v)  One piece of the Act ... section 34 ... was proclaimed by the
               President (a Presidential proclamation brings an Act or a piece
               of it into law) on 31st August, 2012 ... Independence Day!
        (vi) Section 34 effectively puts a limitation period on the
               prosecution of certain crimes (excepting things like murder,
               etc.) if the trial has not begun within the specified period.

Those are the facts. But, in typical Trini style now comes the confusion. The proclaiming of section 34 helped two of the most "famous" (if that is the right word) accused persons, Mr. Ishwar Galbaransingh and Mr. Steve Ferguson who have been facing corruption charges arising out of the building of the Piarco Airport more than ten years ago. The cases against these men have been proceeding tortuously through the legal system at a pace that would make a snail look like Usain Bolt. What feels like a million years later their preliminary enquiries are still not complete.

Messrs. Galbaransingh and Ferguson are anything but foolish and as soon as section 34 was proclaimed they jumped and applied to the Court to have their matters thrown out.

The problem is that both of these gentlemen are known to have been
financiers of the ruling UNC in the past. And whether it is true or not, most people believe that they still are. Further, the very surrepticious way that the Government went about having section 34 proclaimed has raised very ugly and (what ought to be) unnecessary suspicions that there was/is some "hanky panky" at play. These suspicions have been exacerbated by the fact that absolutely NO explanation has been forthcoming from either the Justice Minister, Mr Volney, under whose Ministry this particular Act falls, or The Attorney General who has overall responsibility for all legal matters in Trinidad & Tobago, as to WHY section 34 was proclaimed when it was.

The population has been inundated with all sorts of excuses and explanations and the Government has even had an emergency session of Parliament to repeal section 34, but nobody on the Government side has come forth with a simple and believable explanation as to why section 34 was proclaimed when it was.

In most democracies, Governments manage to survive crises like this one which cause a sudden and unexpected loss of confidence, by the firing or resignation of the Minister or Ministers at the centre of the particular storm. This has not happened in this case and the two Ministers in the centre of the storm have given every indication that they ain't gonna "fall on their swords" any time soon; and in the very glaring absence of a credible explanation as to why the now infamous proclamation was made or some judicious resigantions or firings, Mrs. Persad Bissessar is going to find that the moral authority to govern has slipped away like the proverbial thief in the night. Unless this situation is rectified now (and "now" means "now") she will find that the country will rapidly become ungovernable ... and that is not something that any right thinking person could possibly want. It is not in our collective interest that a Government should fall like this, but fall it will if the Prime Minister does not act quickly and decisively ... and fast.

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