Explain please, Prime Minister! Opposition Leader Keith Rowley has asked acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith to call on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to explain in detail how the proclamation of the controversial Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act 2011 arose. Backed by a large crowd of marchers-including some former political foes-Rowley took a petition to Hamel-Smith along with a petition of 25,000 signatures which the Opposition PNM said they gathered in 48 hours.
Hamel-Smith is acting President in the absence of President George Maxwell Richards who left for New Zealand yesterday to attend a conference and will proceed on holidays after. The issue of Section 34 has continued to generate controversy despite last week's repeal of the legislation by Parliament. The Government moved to repeal the section after growing concern that it will allow people who had cases outstanding for more than ten years, including businessmen Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson who are facing fraud charges, to go free.
Hundreds call on Government for answers in march with Rowley
Yesterday, Rowley led the Opposition's march concerning the genesis of the issue-the August 31 proclamation of the clause. Walking with Rowley and PNM members were former PP?partner, Movement for Social Justice leader David Abdulah, BIGWU's Vincent Cabrera, DNA?leader Kirk Meighoo and former COP deputy leader Robert Mayers.
Also present were former Senate President Michael Williams, Kirk Waithe, of Fixin' T&T, plus activist Raul Bermudez, business people, pensioners and trade union members. Addressing the crowd, Abdulah noted the "people power" and called for them to organise more broadly into a "grand coalition of a people's democracy to bring about the kind of governance of equity and justice" which, he said, T&T yearned for.
The march, which began at 1.30 pm outside the Red House on Abercromby Street, wended its way peacefully towards the Queen's Park Savannah and in a snaking red line around the Savannah to President's House. Rowley entered President's House at 3.05 pm bearing the petition. He was accompanied by Abdulah, Cabrera, Meighoo and PNM's Camille Robinson-Regis, Franklin Khan and Fitzgerald Hinds. They spent almost 50 minutes with Hamel-Smith.
The petition noted issues from the November ruling by Justice Boodoosingh on the extradition of Galbaransingh and Ferguson to the US to the proclamation of Section 34. The PNM noted that when it was proclaimed, none of the assurances they said they were given in the Parliament were met.
The petition stated that at the time the section was proclaimed, "the Justice Minister who had the portfolio responsible for the Cabinet note that the Attorney?General promptly acted upon, enjoyed and continues to enjoy a close relationship with at least one of the beneficiaries of the amnesty in the act."
Rowley later told the crowd-gathered in the Savannah opposite President's House-that he took the issue to the President's office since the head of state is not a rubber stamp and is responsible for receiving reports from the PM on the state of T&T.
He said he asked the President to trace the documents that sought proclamation of the clause backwards to its origin and to make sure that at every stage of proceedings-including the drafting of the Cabinet note on the issue-that rules and regulations were followed. He also asked the President to demand a written explanation from the Prime Minister on the reasons for the decision of the Cabinet which acted in breach of Parliament's trust.
Rowley said he also wants the President to urgently raise the national outrage on the issue with the Prime Minister. As well, Rowley requested the President to ask the Prime Minister to revoke the appointments of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and Justice Minister Herbert Volney The petition also wants the President to report to the country on the findings.
"We're certain the President will talk to the nation on these matters. T&T is in crisis,"?Rowley said. Accusing the Government of betraying the Parliament and using the Cabinet, Rowley said the Prime Minister had attended last week's Parliament debate on the issue, yet didn't speak. "If a crisis like this had risen in New Zealand, India, Australia or Canada, you think the Prime Minister there would have gone to Parliament and had not a word to say?
"We're governed by a coalition and its leader had nothing to say and the second tier leader-of the COP-had nothing to say," he said.