Speak up, Mr President
Friday, September 21 2012
PRESIDENT George Maxwell Richards has a pivotal role in the outcome to the current scandal of the premature declaration of Section 34 of the Miscellaneous Provisions (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011. At present he is abroad, addressing a conference of chemical engineers in New Zealand from which he goes on vacation, but he must be prepared to step up to the wicket upon his return to TT.
Opposition Leader, Dr Keith Rowley, has called on President Richards to investigate the origins of the scandal and to raise the matter with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Rowley’s call came in a petition of 25,000 signatures that he delivered to President’s House on Tuesday when he led a large public march protesting the scandal.
Richards is already well-positioned to partially shed light on this state of affairs, as to how Section 34 was mysteriously proclaimed on August 30 by himself, ahead of some future date agreed on by all groupings in both Houses of Parliament. He can help identify which person, presumably acting on behalf of Cabinet, sent him the request to proclaim the law prematurely.
In last Friday’s Newsday, Justice Minister, Herbert Volney, was reported as stepping forward to take credit/blame for initiating the rushed proclamation which he boasted of as being a “bold decision” done to help impoverished men languishing in jail. Yet in our view the Justice Ministry is a largely invented post, whose status is clearly lesser and perhaps subservient to that of the Attorney General. Last Monday in addressing the Ceremonial Opening of the Law Term 2012/2013, Richards made some coded but strong remarks about the state of the world and of human affairs in Trinidad and Tobago.
He defended the independence of the Judiciary.
“There have been times, though few, when the Judiciary has had to sound the alarm as it were in order to ensure that the demarcations insulating itself from any other arm of governance remain intact,” said Richards. “It seems that the difference between making law and executing or application of the law is not clearly understood by all concerned. This uninformed position must not be allowed to develop, lest encroachment upon the domain of the Judiciary become a feature of our way of life in Trinidad and Tobago.”
The President went on to make a clear reference to corruption and ill-governance by quoting a biblical verse condemning the leaders of ancient Judah and Israel who were “scheming together”, who “abhorred judgement” and who “perverted all equity”. Fast-forwarding to the present, he said TT is part of a world that is far from perfect. He spoke of self-interest replacing collective responsibility in TT, adding, “Survival of the fittest is the order of the day”.
With the Section 34 scandal having been poised to have had a direct impact of the Judiciary — by allowing persons including political financiers — to walk free of the law-courts at the behest of the politicians, anyone hearing Richards’ remarks could well interpret them to be a criticism of the political perpetrators of this scandal. If indeed Richards was subtly targetting those culpable persons who sit in Cabinet, we would in fact have liked him to have sailed even closer to the wind.
Please, speak up, Mr President!
Last Monday also saw an even less ambiguous criticism of the Section 34 fiasco, from the Dean of the Trinity Cathedral, the Very Reverend Collin Sampson, at the Service of Divine Worship for the Judiciary.
He expressed his discomfort over recent events in Parliament — in a clear reference to the Section 34 scandal — but added that he was somewhat reassured by last week’s eventual repeal of the clause.
Quite rightly in our view, Rev Sampson made the point that forgiveness alone is not sufficient in human affairs, without acknowledgment and confession of what went wrong, so as to avoid any future repeat of the wrongdoing.
With more and more interest groups daily expressing concerns over the Section 34 fiasco — including labour, business, the Judiciary, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the Opposition and even the Congress of the People (COP) — we firmly defend Rev Sampson’s right to also voice his concerns on this important issue of the day. We now keenly await President Richards’ timely contribution to shedding light on this most unpalatable affair.