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PM must act swiftly but surely on AG

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is right that it is her duty to get all the information she can with regard to the allegations of witness tampering that have been made against her Attorney General and that she should then make a decision in the best interest of the people of T&T.

The matters before her are indeed “very grave allegations concerning three very important officers in our land,” Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, National Security Minister Gary Griffith and Director of the Police Complaints Authority David West. In joining the Guardian’s call for the Attorney General to resign, the Law Association yesterday noted that “the police investigation into the conduct of the Attorney General has the ability to adversely affect and undermine the public perception of and confidence in the Office of the Attorney General.”

It is also noteworthy that the portfolios of all three men touch on the maintenance of law and order in the country and therefore Mr Ramlogan’s continuation in office for much longer could undermine confidence in the justice system and law enforcement. Mrs Persad-Bissessar, then, shoulders the very serious responsibility of gathering information as quickly as possible.

Natural justice requires that she hear directly from the three people involved. While the ministers are obliged to respond to her requests for information, there may be some hesitance on the part of Mr West—as there was when he rejected a request from Minister of Legal Affairs Prakash Ramadhar for a meeting last week.

In this case, the Prime Minister must carefully read his various statements in this matter—and in particular his now controversial statement in which he alleged that an attempt was made to get him to withdraw his witness statement in a Section 34 defamation matter. In ensuring that she fulfills the requirements of natural justice, the Prime Minister should also be aware of the need to move swiftly to bring this matter to a close.

It would be a completely unsatisfactory state of affairs for this matter to be hanging over the heads of two of her ministers for much longer than three days. It would be completely unsatisfactory, for example, for the Prime Minister to take the view that this is a police matter and that she must await the completion of that investigation.

A very serious allegation has been reported to the police. To ensure complete fairness in the investigations now in progress, every effort must be made to eliminate the possibility of interference or manipulation or even the perception of interference or manipulation. Even the tiniest perception that all is not being done above board will taint the probe and any further action that may be required once it is completed.

While Mr Ramlogan has issued a brief statement promising to co-operate fully in the investigation, he looms large as the central figure in the matter. His ability to properly function in the office of Attorney General in the midst of this controversy is already being called into question.

The fact that a general election is just months away may be weighing heavily in the prime minister’s deliberations in this matter. However, it is not enough for her to express concern publicly and promise action. She must be seen to act firmly and decisively in this matter. Her administration cannot afford even the slightest hint that political expediency is taking precedence over matters that have such serious implications for the smooth functioning of the country.

Mrs Persad-Bissessar, a seasoned politician who holds the rank of senior counsel, must use her considerable qualifications and experience to balance justice with firmness, without fear or favour, malice or ill-will.


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