Watchdogs of democracy

By Raffique Shah
September 16, 2012

Raffique ShahFIFTY years ago, in one of his now-famous speeches delivered during the euphoria of Independence, Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams told citizens of the fledgling nation, “…Democracy, finally, rests on a power higher than Parliament. It rests on an informed and cultivated and alert public opinion….” I recalled that injunction last week when the nation was shaken from its Jubilee stupor to learn, through the alertness of the media, that an injudicious act of Parliament was about to hurl us down a legal precipice, the consequences of which are best left to the imagination.

I refer to the now-notorious Section 34 of the Administration of Justice Act (2011). You and I, citizens, have little interest in the details of bills that are brought before Parliament. We may note the broad intent of certain legislation and express views on them. For example, when the Patrick Manning administration introduced amendments to the Property Tax Act in 2010, there was near-universal condemnation of the new provisions. I should add that mine was a minority voice calling for moderation of the proposed fees, not abandonment of the tax.

There were many other instances when the masses engaged Parliament in open debate over proposed laws; the Dangerous Dogs Act and the Public Order Bill (1970) come to mind. Generally, though, we leave legislative matters to Government’s legal advisers and the elected and nominated members of Parliament. In other words, we trust the persons charged with running the affairs of State to do the job effectively and efficiently.

But we have learnt over the years that Dr Williams’ dictum, his note that democracy depends on the active involvement of the masses (a right he often tried to suppress, I need add), holds true today as it did 50 years ago. Had a Guardian reporter not noted the legal actions filed by two “Piarco” accused under Section 34, seeking to escape trial for serious fraud, a number of felons, some of them as dangerous as mass murderers given the nature of their alleged crimes, might have escaped justice.

Indeed, many of them may yet escape. And even if they fail, their attempts could cost taxpayers huge sums in legal fees. We must ask the question, how the hell did this happen? And who is or are responsible for what is tantamount to a legal catastrophe? There are umpteen attorneys in Parliament, including newly minted senior counsels in the persons of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Justice Minister Herbert Volney never lets us forget that he sat on the Bench for many years. Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar entered politics on the foundation of an outstanding legal career. There are sundry other lawyers in Government, and among the Opposition and the Independents in the Senate. Senate President Roger Hamel-Smith took the chair with a legal pedigree that spans generations.

Mark you, I haven’t added the phalanx of legal advisers who cost taxpayers arms and legs for every brief they pursue, every document they peruse. Yet, all the Queen’s men (and women), and all the Queen’s donkeys, had to cut-and-paste and use chewing gum to try and put Humpty Dumpty together again.

What the hell is going on in Parliament? The best explanation the AG could proffer was, “All ah we make ah mistake!” His limp defence of the indefensible reminded me of Desmond Cartey’s “all ah we t’ief”. And we are expected to trust these people with collecting and spending more than $50 billion of our money every year, with managing a country with assets worth, maybe, several trillion dollars.

Fortunately for citizens, the much-maligned media serve as watchdogs of their interests, refusing to succumb to pitbull-like attacks from ministers and officials-on-high who seem to believe “the office maketh the man”. Indeed, even as people read the Guardian report, shocked by its contents and dazed by its implications, the AG went on the offensive, denying culpability, as has become the norm.

It was that report that alerted DPP Roger Gaspard to the stench emanating from the stateroom, telling him that something was rotting in the corridors of power. Gaspard, who has proved to be as fiercely independent and outspoken as his predecessors were, penned a revealing letter to the AG. Dubbing the proclamation of Section 34 “an absurdity”, the DPP gave a timeline of the Administration of Justice Act that gave lie to Cabinet’s belated attempt to extricate itself from some notion of skullduggery.

When the Government was forced—yes, forced—into summoning an emergency session of Parliament to try to rescue itself from the latrine pit it was swirling in, its spokespersons tried to splatter spit on everyone in the chamber. However, except for its core of sycophants, they fooled no one.

It is now clear that there was no need for Section 34 in the Act. The overall legislation, once it’s properly implemented, should serve to speed up the wheels of justice. So why was an altered 34 inserted by Volney during debate in the Senate? And how does Volney respond to the DPP’s statement that he had informed the minister that its proclamation would have bearing on 47 matters, including one of the Piarco cases?

I do not expect Volney to answer any of these very pertinent questions. I do not expect Ramlogan to indicate why he failed to put in place measures he had agreed to before he forwarded the act to the President for assent. And I do not expect the Prime Minister to say who triggered the proclamation, why it was done on Independence Day.

This scandalous episode exposes how the powers-that-be, as transient as they may be, view the relationship between the Government and the governed. We are nothing but spit, they are the spitters. But the tables will turn, one day, one day…

14 thoughts on “Watchdogs of democracy”

  1. Sunity Maharaj is right to ask,Were we all patsies in a grand, diabolical conspiracy by those in control of the apparatus of the state? Or were we simply victims of bunglers and sleepwalkers?”

  2. I think the people of TnT, represented by those two Guardian reporters(peace and grace be unto them) who exposed what was going on, gave the lie to us being a “fete only” nation. I am assuming that it was that belief that caused the incompetent quarterback, Mr. Ramlogan, to try to sneak the amendment past us during the euphoria of independence. How I would have liked to be a fly on the wall of the “inner cabinet” during those discussions.He should have known that the media, the press never sleeps. There are watchdogs at the gate 24-7.

    Is it not strange, you think, that the only other piece of legislation I know of, in our country, that was passed overnight, by Dr. Williams, was The Alien’s Landholding Act, which limited one British businessman from buying up Engineering Ltd. McEnaerney Motors and Neal an Massey in one gulp, and who would have taken total control of all car imports into TnT?
    On that occasion, Williams held Pariament to their seats through the night, so that the bill was read the required three times, and passed before daybreak. It protected our local businessmen, protected the beaches from being bought up by foreign hoteliers, as is the case in Barbados, and made a 51% of the shares of any company a required to be held by our people. Parts of that law, I understand were repealed by the former UNC government.
    Williams knew the chicanery and trickery of the outside world. Now, having provided all those lawyers in the house with free education, they try to use the euphoria of the 50th anniversary, and our success at the Olympics, to rape the country, and try to get their crooked friends off scott free.

    Now this present government seems off on a rape and pillage rampage of the economy, (juanting and junketing everywhere, while denying salary increases that would meet the cost of living, to the mostly African originated public service employees) that boggles the mind, and whenever questions are raised in media comments, I keep hearing what te PNM allegedly did; as if they know they only have five years to rape the treasury and reassign the land to their friends before being booted into Hades.

    My concern about the greater population is, that the media seems alone in this fight. They and Dr. Rowley, and some union officials. All others seem to have adopted a “so what” attitude. We have lost our indignation.It is as if they are content to have a few crumbs dropped from the table, and believe that that is food.
    At times of stress in the politics of other countries, the Church, be it Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Jew, spoke with thundering voices, but those voices in Tnt seem silent.
    I think of the thundering voice of Desmond Tutu, of the African Bishop of York in England, of the Unitarian Church in the USA which/who have stood for justice, for reason, for an end to excess. I do not hear such voices raised in Tnt. It is as if they live only on subventions from the Government, and are afraid of being sent, hungry into the wilderness.

    Never mind the nonsense about politics and religion not mixing.All Christians have, at the foundation of their faith, the illegal arrest and murder of an innocent man, Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, called the Christ. In many Middle East and Asian countries, religion has been used to suppress democracy, so to say that religion and politics should not mix is to make a nonsense statement.Religion is politics and vice versa.

    peole need to get up off their duffs, and do things to change the direction of the country. The slippery slope Dr. Rowley mentioned, has a snowbaling effect, gathering momentum downhill.
    Thank you Raf. Some knuckleheds with bring up 1970, you know that, but I am proud of the fact that you stand aside from politics and tell it like it is. You’d never get an award for what you do, but you do the right thing. Keep on.

  3. The PM can still rescue this country by replacing Ramlogan and Volney with honorable men or women, if there are any left in this country.
    The journalists in T&T are not as sharp as we would like to think, otherwise they would have uncovered the connections between certain individuals long before the election of the PP.

    1. tman whit all due respect you hoping against all hope .that’s your perogative.. but sorry to buss your bubble the pm cant rescue sheself much less the country.You see the pm has always been known to be a person with very little morals and integrity ( ask jack) now power and money eat out the little she had left. To compound that she surround herself with people just like herself so no one can tell no one nothing ,they all have sh** for lack of a better word, over each other heads,only those who really dont know to much gets fired.Her entire cabinet does not respect.She cannot be an effective leader with no respect from nobody.She cannot fix that now it is to late in the game,so where does that leave her ,exactly where she is .. she like a woman in a club where every man tom dick an harry pulling at she and she cant say nothing … if kamla had started of respecting herself and stop looking at jack with goggley eyes, remember those days, in every picture she and jack like them alone know something we mere motals dont and that is only one example there are many many more ,shewould not of been in this many monkeys on her back ..for real ..

  4. There is a question here of guts and courage, as well as who owes who what. Perhaps Jack is holding all the strings.

  5. Someone is asleep at the Helm of our Democracy:

    Thus the contempt thus the callous & brazen lawlessness reeking havoc in the Country i.e. No one will b prosecuted much less challenged in the brazen attempt to subvert & possibly even, to wrestle/escape through an illegal ACT legally.

    The fact that the PM and the AG are/were direct accomplices, its appalling that the President did not stepped in!

    There come a time of function where the Head of the Nation must be seen proactive in defense of the Nation’s laws. The DPP has spoken.
    Under the Country’s constitution: this is a matter of extraordinary circumstance and the President must be seen as the protector of the citizenry if nothing else!

    To be more explicit the President should have moved to impeach the PM, subsequently dismiss the AG in the lease.

    This by every legal code of ethic is meant to if not embolden but to enshrine the concept of the Republic, where the Head of State though reluctant is force to the fore demonstrating the HONOUR of the of of the President.

    There is still time, this isn’t a cocktail event Mr President though I may add, This is the golden opportunity that allows you Mr President to sync with the Masses void of all constituents except the recalcitrant be it a few or a majority of lawless blindness and demonstrate to this constituent that, Institutions backed by Legal laws make it the Nation!
    The Prime Minister’s and the Attorney General’s attempt to re-fix this gross misconduct is liken to a thief caught with stolen items including the tools and measures in hand at the scene of what was clearly; broad-daylight Robbery (parliament) as they attempted to return stolen items on the arrival of the poli Ops! the DPP and adamant “Journalism”.

    The President has let us down!

  6. Some $100 million spent on this Airport fiasco. It is amazing how much more will be spent before it is all over. What could the nation do with $100 million? I think in a desperate effort to jail some millionares the nation is bleeding out cash at an incredible rate.

    Ish had a PNM card as a smart businessman and then placed that card in his draw and got a UNC card. The Airport fiasco stood as a monument of corruption and assisted the PNM in winning elections. I unlike the other bloggers do not believe in wasting money in perpetuity, there must be a statute of limitations. You cannot spend, spend, and spend hoping after 20 years to get a conviction and jail term. And at the end of it you have wasted $500 million just to get a conviction. Yes I know people believe that law is an a.. and so do I. But when do we allow such wastage of tax payers dollars to go on in perpetuity. If you cannot prove your case, get a conviction within 7 years then I would say you need to revise, review your system of justice. What about the say “justice delayed is justice denied”. Something is definitely wrong here…

  7. Let me tell you a bit of African history to put that spending on the Airport Crimes in perspective.
    About 1910, the British, in their march of annexation across Africa, siezed the Benin bronzes from the palace of the Kingdom of Benin and took them to London”For safekeeping” They are in the British Museum- these historic masks of the kings of Benin. The Kingdom is now an automous part of the Republic of Nigeria. The Benin people are scattered all over the world. Every year, they meet in convention and petition the British Government to send the masks back. The thieving brits ignore them.
    They want their masks back, and will not try desperate tactics that may destroy them in the process. Some of these masks were created for kings who died in the fourteenth century.
    The point here is that a theft of my stuff, remains a theft in perpetuity.
    It does not matter how much money is spent on prosecuting criminals for theft of the patrimony of the children of Trinidad and Tobago. The point has to be made. Restitution, with interest has to be paid. You get it?

    1. It is better in Britan if it goes back to Nigeria at some point in time it will be stolen or the building burnt. Nigeria is fighting “boko haram”. They do not like any building that look western or have anything western in it. They have killed pastors, church members and anyone who does not obey Allah. Do you think it would be right to repatriate these items from African history, given such an explosion of bombings and murder. Now don’t get me wrong the artifacts should go back but not when this nation is incapable of protecting it’s own citizens.

      1. Nigeria is protecting theat 8000 year old boat that the German excavators found on the recessed shores of Lake Chad, about eight years ago, during the Presidency of Olesugun Obasanjo. the German antropolicist wanted to take it to Germany to study it. HA! Should we, in response to all the murders antd thievery, including that by the present Government send our national treasures to Britain for safe keeping? Next time there is a Hindu?Muslim riot in india and a temple or mosque or train full of pilgrims is brnt, should India dismantle the Taj MAhal and send it to britain for safekeeping?
        I hope you realize the rot you are talking.

  8. There are two issues outlined in the piece as I see it that I would like to address in a different way. The first issue is the section of the law. While there could have been adjustments to the law this is needed for the sake of, ion one instance, freedom. Freedom is not only one persons right it is everyones right. Therefore if I have an issue before the court it is my right to have it heard in a timely fashion. What we have now in T&T is that right being eroded by the one area that is supposed to enforce that right – the judiciary. If my case goes on for 15 or 20 years without resolution then that right is denied me. If it involves say a piece of land where with my neighbour we are both claiming that piece of land, then it is both of our rights to have this matter heard before the courts in a timely fashion. Now the only case taht are heard in a timely fashion is drug offenses.

    The second issue is democracy, or what is now seen as democracy. A democratically elected government must listen to its constituents. If a government passes a law and the citizenry opposes that law it is incumbent on the government to give redress to the citizenry. That is a listening government. In modern democracies what we have is elections. After elections there is no redress for the citizenry. This, to me, smell of authoritarian dictatorship. But from what I read in T&T that is what we want. According to T&T if a government has to listen to the citizens they are weak and need to go because we want strong government. Strong government, in my view, is not dictatorial government but government with institutions that are answerable to the people and serve the people.

    In T&T we all have to “know somebody” in every office to get service that is a right. How long does it take to get a passport, an ID card, a drivers permit, you stuff through customs, your money from the bank, and on and on, without “knowing somebody” in the office. But having returned ‘with foreign ideas’ I now understand we just like to complain. If it will work we don’t want it because we will have nothing to complain about. I have not regretted returning but I am learning to live with it and learning to stay away and getting to ‘know’ everybody.

  9. I agree with mamoo to a certain extent. There must be limits and cases should not be allowed to go on for this long. However; if part of those delays rest on the shoulders of the defendants, who have been tying up the courts with appeals and motions, section 34 should not used by these defendants. In developed countries, they have similar laws and statues of limitations. But when a case is first brought and the defendant is the one delaying trial, they cannot claim undue process. These men have tired up this case with their money. All legal of course. So the laws in our country MUST change and if defendants delay trial, they cannot seek protection under section 34 because they are the ones delaying, not the State.

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