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What say you, Madam PM?
As the nation awaits word from Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Section 34, she is reminded that she was placed in a position by the electorate in May of 2010 to oversee the business of the people and it would be a gross dereliction of that duty if she chooses not to fulfil that sacred trust placed in her.
In the absence of such a thorough and substantive explanation, which will then have to be verified by further investigation to uncover all of the facts, the very kindest interpretation that can be put on this Clause 34 matter is that it demonstrates incompetence. The recent revelation by chairman of the Legislative Review Committee Prakash Ramadhar that Section 34 never came before the committee for review and input is instructive. So, too, were statements from the Criminal Bar Association, the Law Association, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Chief Justice indicating that Section 34 was also hidden from their view.
This pushes the conclusion beyond mere incompetence. The citizen is left to conclude that it was a deliberate attempt to hide the section from scrutiny. In the circumstances, the average citizen is left to deduce that there was a plan to open a window of opportunity for those facing criminal proceedings to escape.
To be certain, those in and out of the cabinet who may be seeking to have Justice Minister Herbert Volney be the fall guy on this matter must be told that this approach will not work. The national community understands cabinet responsibility; it understands that when a minister brings a cabinet note it has no power unless it is given the stamp of approval by cabinet.
The march on Tuesday called by opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley and his People’s National Movement and the makeup and vigour of that crowd are demonstrations of how strongly the public feels about this issue. Further, as reported in today’s Guardian, other civic-minded groups are outraged and are coming together to demand answers from the Prime Minister. Maybe, Madam Prime Minister, your advisers are saying to you that this one will blow over if you sit tight and wait out the storm. Of course, storms, even hurricanes pass; but you must know the destruction they leave in their wake.
Your continued silence on the early and partial proclamation, the stealth with which it was done, the deliberate exclusion of white-collar crime from Schedule 6 and the failure of your Cabinet to consult with critical institutions, even one established by your own Cabinet to review legislation, give the impression that you do not understand the enormity of the error (or otherwise) and the strength of people’s feelings about it.
Prime Minister, maybe, too, you are underestimating the importance of credibility to the process of government and governance. Your Government, through your Minister of Finance, is about to present the budget for the next year. Then there is the fact of your Government having to counter criminality, which has seeped into the marrow of the social ethic, including corruption in public office. These measures need more than technical solutions. They need a government with credibility.
Without a statement on your part that answers the questions posed by the implementation of Section 34, your Government’s measures will have little traction. You should also know, Prime Minister, that diversionary tactics will not work—the body politic is not letting go of this one.
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