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Parliamentarians’ position class-based
Governments over the last 25 years have not been put out of office on the day of polling, but have incrementally lost legitimacy/credibility over a period of time. “They collapsed in office” is the colourful phrase used by Lloyd Best to describe the phenomenon. The Section 34 premature and partial-proclamation scandal, which is far from resolved, has absorbed a large quantity of the reserves of political currency the People’s Partnership came into office with.
Instead of answering questions in the debate in both Houses as to why the premature proclamation against the assurances to Parliament to the contrary, eg, the “absurdity” of proclaiming Section 34 by itself, and why white-collar crimes were exempted from Schedule 6, more and increasingly perplexing questions, a few of them that suggest diabolical intent on the part of certain people, have been raised. Moreover, the debate and the fallout outside the Parliament resulted in additional contention amongst PP partners.
Justice Minister Herbert Volney, who piloted the original bill, was restricted in the repeal debate. He charged that there were members of the Cabinet who wanted to get him and to take away his St Joseph seat. But even more damaging was his claim that he had been told about alleged corrupt activities by unnamed colleague/s: “I am not a money-in-bag-minister. I do not take five and ten per cent cutback in legal fees,” Volney was quoted as saying in the T&T Guardian, he has not denied the story.
Then there was the silence in the Parliament of the leader of the minority coalition partner, the Congress of the People. However, outside the chambers, chairman of the COP Joseph Toney was very vocal and incisive. He pointed out the serious inconsistencies and strange methods that were taken to proclaim the legislation. Even Ashworth Jack seemed to have acquired political backbone, enough to be critical of the Government.
In the debate itself, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan came out swinging, attempting to liberally scatter responsibility to everyone in the Parliament for his Government’s legislation. In so doing he sought to obfuscate the real issues: why the premature and partial proclamation, and exemptions from Schedule 6. His claim that it did not matter whether proclamation was done on August 31 or January 2, 2013 was a poor attempt to bamboozle the country.
Instead of substantial answers, the AG boasted of the brilliance of his newly-minted Senior Counsel Prime Minister in guiding him to repeal Section 34. It is a pity that brilliance did not shine before the bill was passed into law. In fact it took non-legal reporters (demonstrating again the fundamental responsibility of the media as the Fourth Estate) to point out the flaws in the legislation and the possible self-serving nature of it.
Having read the unrevised Hansard of the November 18, 2011 debate, it became clear that Volney placed the proclamation in the context of supporting infrastructure being put in place to support the law, rules of the court, masters being found and recruited, et al. “Mr Speaker, granted that the agencies would require time to put their houses in order, the bill will come into force once all procedural and administrative support mechanisms and initiatives are in place to facilitate the effective operationalisation of the bill,” said Mr Volney.
In the debate, the Justice Minister agreed with a two-three-year timeframe for implementation suggested by the Opposition. Have the measures outlined by the minister been put in place? If not, is it acceptable for the Government, represented by a minister, so easily to go back on a commitment to Parliament? As justification for the early and partial proclamation, the Justice Minister said it was done to get the court system ready for the law.
But: “Curiously, no other substantive provision of this act has been brought into force...Section 34.1 cannot stand on its own without absurdity, while 34.2 and 34.3 have nothing to do with any such abolition,” abolition of the PI being the core intent of the act, states DPP, Roger Gaspard.
On the exemption of the so-called white-collar crimes (money-laundering, fraud and corruption of all varieties) from Schedule 6, to make those charged with such crimes eligible for discharge after the ten-year period, the collective Parliament must take full responsibility for a fundamental mindset. The parliamentarians effectively said: those charged with such crimes, the rich and the powerful with resources and influence to delay trials, are not as deadly as those charged with murder, rape, etc. That is a class-based position.
Surely, parliamentarians should be aware that white-collar crime, fraud, money-laundering, and corruption in the public and private sectors fuel under-development, deprive and kill hundreds of millions of people, and are at the core of drugs and arms running; they are serious “bloodcrimes.” Nonetheless, I must note that only Independent Senator Helen Drayton was honest enough to express a genuine apology. Nothing short of a comprehensive response from Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, answering the hard questions and speaking of her own role in the proclamation, will suffice.
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