Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s announcement last week that former attorney general Ramesh Maharaj is working, at his request, with the Attorney General’s Department to ensure that convicted killers do not beat the hangman has not met with general acceptance.
“Why Ramesh, of all people?” a caller asked me promptly next morning. “He is a good lawyer, but he has been so negative on many issues, even against the PNM. Now he could sabotage from within.”
Another caller, sometime later said: “Rowley know what he doing? Ramesh? Nah…nah!”
Since then I have heard supportive comments, and I have responded to both sides repeatedly that I support the Prime Minister’s decision to secure the services of the former attorney general, particularly as his work is being done pro bono, i.e. at no cost to the Treasury. Maharaj may hold the suspicions of some, but none can question his dedication to the legal profession, and the quality of his work — in private practice or as attorney general in the Basdeo Panday administration.
It was Maharaj’s alertness and professional vigilance that brought an end to the Dole Chadee gang in 1999. Since then convicted killers have beaten the hangman’s noose, either through legal manoeuvrings or mis-steps within the Attorney General’s Office.
Last week, Maharaj confirmed that the PM had contacted him and he has since forwarded a document, prepared by an international consultant, which outlined the process that the AG’s Office adopted during his tenure, including the work of the Case Management Unit which monitors each conviction, to ensure that convicted killers do not beat the Privy Council’s five-year limit, set in the Pratt & Morgan case.
“But isn’t that a slap in Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi’s face…the PM calling Ramesh to help him?” another detractor said.
I disagreed, explaining that the AG’s Office routinely hands out briefs to lawyers in private practice. This instance was no different; in fact, it is, because it is being done pro bono.
I have long suggested that, in the absence of an ethics commissioner, the former attorney general should be appointed the State’s special prosecutor to pursue a number of outstanding matters.
The duties of special prosecutor could be so assigned as to ease the workload of the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office. At the same time more can be demanded from the Police Service, the Financial Intelligence Unit, and, indirectly, from the Judiciary.
Then the public may get answers, relating to:
** The claim by the Head of the Police Fraud Squad, Senior Supt Totaram Dookhie, that there was a 417 per cent increase in fraud cases within the government between 2014 and 2015. The 2015 value was an estimated at $336.6 million;
** The People’s Partnership expenditure of a rental of $850,000 a month on the Santa Rosa Heights prison, and its subsequent purchase from undisclosed owners for some $250 million;
** The $95 million paid for a forensic audit into Petrotrin; the conclusions of which remain undisclosed;
** The $408,260,340 the Attorney General’s Office reportedly spent, during the tenure of Anand Ramlogan, on fees to a small group of attorneys, which AG Al-Rawi said last November increased to an estimated $1.5 billion;
** The outstanding police investigations into Emailgate, Prisongate, Judiciarygate; (David) Westgate, etc;
** The leasing of premium State lands in Chaguaramas to a small group of selected investors, at rates ranging from $1 to $3,400 a month;
** The contracts awarded to seven prominent contractors to quarry on 240 acres of State lands at Melajo Forest Reserve, Valencia;
** The long outstanding report of the Securities & Exchange Commission into allegations involving former finance minister Larry Howai, regarding insider trading in Trinidad Cement shares;
** The $60 million illegally transferred from the account of the National Energy Corporation through First Citizens to persons in Abu Dhabi;
** The investigation into the $34 million the State paid for unpaid work under the LifeSport Programme;
** Acting Police Commissioner, Stephen Williams’ conclusion that the police had no evidence to charge a medical doctor who removed cocaine pellets from a patient’s stomach, and then handed them back to him;
** Police investigations into the “plant-like substance” found at the home of former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s;
** The investigation into the March 23, 2015 “Day of Total Policing”, conducted by the Police Complaints Authority;
** The 2014 claim by former US assistant secretary of state, William Brownfield that Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal was murdered by a trans-national organisation.
The country is awaiting answers to a whole bag of matters – long…long outstanding.
• Keith Subero is a veteran journalist