Two Opposition MPs yesterday called on the population to “protest” and “fight back” following Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi’s stated intention to eliminate the Government’s need for a special majority vote on certain pieces of legislation.
Tabaquite MP Surujrattan Rambachan and Couva North MP Ramona Ramdial have warned Al-Rawi’s statements are a sign of a “creeping dictatorship” and a “dictatorship in the making”.
The Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) has, however, reserved comment, with president Reginald Armour, SC, saying yesterday there has so far been “nothing more than an expression of intention by the AG”.
Al-Rawi, speaking at a conference hosted by the Association of Real Estate Agents (AREA) on Tuesday, said “enough is enough” when it came to the Opposition’s lack of support in the Parliament, which has prevented the passing of some key pieces of legislation.
This includes the Tax Information Exchange Agreement Bill, which the Government needs to become compliant with FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) and other legislation the Government says is necessary in its fight against crime.
Last month, Al-Rawi withdrew the preamble of the Miscellaneous Provisions (Marriage) Bill 2016, which had caused it to require a special majority, allowing the Government to pass the legislation, making the age of 18 the legal marriageable age in T&T.
The Attorney General’s actions had then drawn criticism from Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who called it unconstitutional and questioned whether the move had been backed by Cabinet.
Al-Rawi said Tuesday the Government would no longer be frustrated in its efforts to pass laws that require a three-fifths majority.
In a news release yesterday, Rambachan said he had noted with trepidation the stated intention of the Attorney General to “undermine the Constitution”.
Rambachan said this “dangerous precedent” was already put in motion with the Marriage Bill, and added: “This action on the part of the AG in his public statement suggests that the Opposition and, by extension, the citizens will not have real influence on legislation which takes away freedoms and rights is a sign of a creeping dictatorship and State tourney.
“The Member of Parliament calls upon citizens to raise their voices in protest at the behaviour of the Attorney General supported by his colleagues which will make living in Trinidad and Tobago a repressive experience.”
Rambachan said the undermining of the role of the Opposition is not only “democracy undermined” but also indicative of the People’s National Movement (PNM) philosophy of “we are in charge and you will have to deal with that”.
Rambachan said people should “fight back against this style of governance”.
Ramdial: Unfit for office
In addition to being unfit for the office, Ramdial said the Attorney General’s “whining” about doing away with the special majority requirement to pass legislation in the Parliament “cannot be accepted in a democracy like ours”.
“A special majority requirement has been instituted within our legislative process to act as a check and balance and to ensure good law is passed at all times,” Ramdial stated in a release. “For the AG to suggest otherwise indicates a dictatorship in the making.”
Ramdial said she strongly condemned Al-Rawi’s statements, and called on him to do the right thing and “resign now”.
LATT: Just a statement
Contacted yesterday, Armour said from the Attorney General’s statements as reported by the media, he, the Attorney General, “acknowledges that certain types of legislation which affect people’s fundamental right have to be passed by a particular majority in the Parliament.
“The Law Association will be prepared to comment on such draft legislation once we see the drafts but before that, I am unable to comment on what is nothing more than an expression of intention by the AG.”
Padarath to AG: Come clean on Camille
And Princes Town MP Barry Padarath has called on Al-Rawi to clarify another matter—that of a 2016 personal bank transaction by Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis that had the integrity of its origin called into question.
Padarath said he had noted Al-Rawi’s intention to table legislation that would allow the Government to question where a citizen’s wealth was generated.
The MP said the Government must lead by example and, as such, Al-Rawi should come clean on the money matters involving Robinson-Regis, who is also Leader of Government Business.
The Attorney General has said he found no wrongdoing in Robinson-Regis’s deposit of some $148,000 in cash, for which the Planning Minister had not satisfied the bank’s requirements that the source of the money be explained.
Padarath stated in a release yesterday Al-Rawi “cannot tell this country that there is one law for them and another for everyone else”.