'I HUMBLY APOLOGISE'
By Andre Bagoo Wednesday, September 19 2012
CONGRESS of the People (COP) political leader Prakash Ramadhar yesterday apologised for any part he may have played in the “awful fiasco” of the Section 34 scandal, breaking ranks from coalition partners UNC and TOP on the issue.
Ramadhar, the Legal Affairs Minister, and San Fernando West MP Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, the Public Administration Minister, both issued apologies at a press conference called at the COP’s Flagship House at Broome Street, Port-of-Spain.
Ramadhar said, “Personally I want to apologise to this nation for any part I took to have contributed to this fiasco but things are done in an environment of trust and sometimes that trust may not necessarily have been well-founded.”
At another point, he appeared to apologise a second time, saying he had been assured by unnamed Government officials that the law would not come into effect until years passed.
He said, “I want to take responsibility as far as, personally, I can and to apologise. Really on reflection there was an awful thing (that took place) but I did raise the issue and on the basis that the coming into force of the Act would not have come (until) an extended period (lapsed) we voted on it, all of us. But I am not trying to absolve myself.”
Seepersad-Bachan said, “We apologise for what has happened.”
Ramadhar said he has requested a meeting with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on the issue within the next 48 hours.
Thus far, the only other MP to apologise for the fiasco is Independent Senator Helen Drayton. The UNC and COP member Anil Roberts declined to apologise in Parliament debates last week.
The apologies came less than a week after the House of Representatives and Senate passed legislation to repeal Section 34 retroactively in an attempt to contain the legal fallout from its early proclamation-approved by Cabinet-on August 31. That early proclamation opened the door to two persons linked to the UNC possibly being discharged and given “not guilty” verdicts by a judge.
The old version of Section 34 introduced a statutory limit (seven to ten years) on criminal prosecutions dating from the start of proceedings, while the inserted version started time at the date of the crime. The new version of the section was tabled by Minister of Justice Herbert Volney in the Senate on November 29, 2011 after the House of Representatives approved the original version on November 18, 2011.
Ramadhar said the controversial “new” version of Section 34 was never placed before the Cabinet sub-committee on legal matters – the Legislative Review Committee, which he chairs.
However, he admitted that after the section was inserted into the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act in the Senate on November 29, 2011, he became aware of it, observing that the section was “fundamentally different.”
He raised concerns and was assured that the legislation would not be proclaimed, thus allowing the passage of time in which indictments of pending matters could be brought.
He did not name the specific ministers who gave him assurances. But asked if he could trust and work with Volney and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, Ramadhar said, “We will have to wait and see how that goes.”
At the same time, Ramadhar and Seepersad-Bachan suggested that the COP MPs did not appreciate the impact the section would have on specific cases. “Many did not appreciate the true gravity of this,” she said. She said without consultation on legislation, its true impact is hard to foresee.
Ramadhar said the Cabinet deliberated on a note brought by Volney in relation to the law to implement the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act last month, on August 9. It was this note that contained the controversial early proclamation of Section 34.
However, Ramadhar, when pressed by reporters, refused to detail Cabinet’s thought process in approving Volney’s note which recommended the proclamation of Section 34 on August 31.
“I will not be able to answer without breaching Cabinet responsibility,” he said.
Asked if the coalition has been damaged by the scandal, Ramadhar said, “I think all of Trinidad and Tobago has been damaged by this fiasco.” At the same time he criticised the Opposition PNM for yesterday staging a march on the issue, stating it was not in the best interest of the country.
“I wonder what benefit to the nation comes from that,” Ramadhar said.