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Maharaj: PM, AG must accept full responsibility
The Prime Minister, the Attorney General and all members of the Cabinet pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago are responsible to Parliament and by extension to the people for Section 34 being proclaimed law. This is the view of attorney Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, former attorney general of T&T.
Maharaj said as a result, the Constitution of our country and the integrity of governance have been seriously compromised. He felt that if the People’s Partnership continues in office and “attempts to cover up the scandal of Section 34,” they would be “further damaging the soul of our nation.”
He believes the only honourable thing to do in the face of this fiasco is for the PM to dissolve Parliament and seek a fresh mandate from the electorate of Trinidad and Tobago. Maharaj expounded on the process of collective responsibility with respect to Section 34.
“Section 75 of the Constitution makes every member of the Cabinet legally responsible for the decisions of Cabinet. They are collectively responsible. “Section 79 of the Constitution makes every minster of government legally responsible for decisions and actions of the Government within his or her ministry. The Attorney General, therefore, cannot on the basis of Sections 75, 76 and 79 escape responsibility for the proclamation of Section 34.
“Under the Constitution of our country, Parliament does not govern our country. Parliament enacts laws and scrutinises the Government. Parliament has no power to proclaim laws. Laws made by the Parliament can only become effective if the laws are assented and where necessary proclaimed. The President can only assent to a law or proclaim a law if he is advised by Cabinet or a minister authorised by the Cabinet.
“Parliament was therefore not responsible for the proclamation of Section 34. The Cabinet was responsible for the proclamation of Section 34. “The Prime Minister in her statement on the proclamation of Section 34 admitted that on August 9, 2012, Cabinet agreed to pick out Section 34 for early proclamation.
Members of the Cabinet who were present including the Prime Minister and the Attorney General at that Cabinet meeting knew that Section 34 would have become effective law and that people charged for criminal offences who fell within the category of Section 34 would have been freed.
“The Prime Minister as an attorney, Senior Counsel, former Attorney General and former minister of Legal Affairs knew that Section 79 of the Constitution made the Attorney General as a minister of government responsible for the business of government assigned to his ministry. She also knew that Section 76 of the Constitution gave to the Attorney General the overall responsibility for legal affairs in Trinidad and Tobago.
She also knew that the Chief Parliamentary Counsel fell under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General. That office was responsible for drafting of the instrument for the proclamation of Section 34. She knew that Section 34 was proclaimed on the authority of the Cabinet and that the Chief Parliamentary Counsel implemented that decision.
“The Prime Minister also knew that she chaired the Cabinet meeting on August 9, 2012, when it agreed to proclaim Section 34. She was fully aware on August 9, 2012, that people covered by Section 34 who were charged for criminal offences would have been freed. It is not true, therefore, that she first became aware of the consequences of Section 34 when, as she alleged in her statement, the Attorney General met with her after his meeting with the DPP.
“No member of the Cabinet can distance himself or herself from the decision made by Cabinet on August 9, 2012, to proclaim Section 34 because by virtue of Section 75 of the Constitution every member of the Cabinet who did not resign after that decision was made, is absolutely and irretrievably responsible for that decision and has no legal right to say it was not his or her decision.
“All Cabinet members, including those from the Congress of the People who were aware of that Cabinet decision and did not resign are legally responsible for proclaiming Section 34.
“The Prime Minister could not have dismissed the Attorney General without dismissing herself. She was just as responsible as the Attorney General was for the proclamation of Section 34. As a matter of fact, she was more responsible since she was the head of the Government. The Prime Minister, therefore, to protect herself decided to make a scapegoat of the Minister of Justice.
“The proclamation of Section 34 amounts to an abuse of power by the Government. This abuse of power will destroy public confidence in the Government.”
See tomorrow’s T&T Guardian for more on Section 34
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