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Govt must admit error, seek to regain credibility
Moving quickly and adroitly to reconvene the Parliament to ensure that the likes of UNC financiers, former government ministers and even a former prime minister do not benefit from the amended Indictable Proceedings Act was really the only option the Government could have adopted, the matter being blown open by reports in the T&T Guardian.
However, going to Parliament to change the legislation does not in any way remove the responsibility from Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, her Attorney General and the Justice Minister to convince the country that they did not have an ulterior motive for passing the legislation and having it proclaimed in the manner that they did. According to Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, the Government promised the Parliament that it would put the infrastructure in place to support the legislation before it was proclaimed.
In the meantime, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan promised that the trial of the accused individuals charged with being involved in a massive fraud worth hundreds of millions of dollars would be pursued with expedition. This latter assurance came after the high court judgment which blocked the extradition of former UNC financiers Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson.
Yet, before the infrastructure is put in place, the Government facilitates the proclamation of one portion of the act, the one which opens the door for the businessmen to be declared not guilty on the basis that their matters had not been tried within the ten-year period stipulated under the new legislation.
Increasing the need for a full explanation is the first response to the issue from Justice Minister Herbert Volney, who piloted the bill. Asked to justify the premature and partial proclamation of the act, Mr Volney seemed not in the least bit perturbed by the possibility of people walking free because of changes in the act. Instead he sought to lay full blame on the State for not expediting the cases, ignoring the many initiatives adopted by the accused to delay matters.
The passage and the hurried and partial proclamation of the act raise very serious questions which cannot be answered and dismissed simply by the Government’s reconvening Parliament to change the law once again. Therefore, before whoever is piloting the amended legislation can get into setting forth the changes and arguing for them, he or she—preferably the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and/or the Justice Minister—must persuade the nation that theirs was not an attempt to be complicit in seeking to have their friends and associates escape trial on these very significant matters.
It cannot be business as usual, because for a government to have credibility, indeed, the moral authority to govern, there can be no questions surrounding its motives and its intentions. For Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar and her government, the requirement is for her to come clean and to demonstrate the openness, transparency and freedom from corruption that they promised when they came to power.
On the involvement of the Opposition PNM in the passage of the legislation and its dependence on the Government to keep its word, there are also questions to be answered. For the last two years at least, the PNM has condemned this Government for not being trustworthy and for breaking its word. Why did the PNM so easily believe the Government when it came to this act?
It is even more puzzling that the PNM supported the legislation after expressing suspicions during the debate about the Government’s motives. Both sides have questions to answer. But the Government has more to lose, by fudging and prevaricating, and more to gain by admitting its error and seeking honestly to regain the population’s trust. This afternoon’s debate could be a turning point in the history of the Persad-Bissessar administration.
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