Saturday, May 27, 2017

Message, messenger and context


A caller to a radio programme last week suggested there is the danger that we could kill the messenger without hearing his message. He was commenting on the demands made by Opposition Senator Gerald Ramdeen that Chief Justice Ivor Archie, as chairman of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, release all the information on the recent appointments of three judges to the High Court.
The caller suggested further that Senator Ramdeen’s demands be examined fully, that they should be seen in a wider context of our time—when our institutions appear to be falling apart and the credibility of office holders is being questioned publicly.
I found merit in the caller’s suggestion, so I re-examined the recent call by Ancel Roget, president general of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union, to BP to “take your platform and go” and the statements of Watson Duke, president of the Public Service Association, during his call for a “Day of Resistance”.
I fitted both statements into the context of our time, and the results were the same: I concluded that Mr Roget needs to be enlightened about the realities of T&T in the 21st century, and Mr Duke, a crude, showy brawler, is best suited for a Randy Glasgow’s comedy special.
To review Senator Ramdeen’s message we should begin with the February 2014 High Court matter between his client, Jamal Sambury, and the attorney general before Master Patricia Sobion-Awai in which she declared herself “satisfied that substantial portions of the claimant’s witness statement had been lifted from other witness statements in an attempt to mislead the court.”
She noted “the similarities” between Jamal Sambury’s witness statement and that of Jamal Fortune in a previous case (CV 2009-3296), describing them as “so striking that the only reasonable conclusion was one was copied from the other”. She recorded her concerns and called for an investigation to prevent further abuses.
Later in the Appeal Court Senator Ramdeen, instructed by Varun Debideen, appeared before Justices Mendonca, Smith and Rajnauth-Lee. Court documents revealed that attorney Lee Merry, appearing for the AG, reminded the court of Master Sobion-Awai’s conclusion that “the conduct of the litigation was dishonest and an abuse of process.”
Justice Mendonca observed that Master Sobion-Awai wrote “it was a plagiarism from somebody else’s witness statement”, to which Merry responded that in such an instance the main form of deterrence was imprisonment for contempt.
This copying and pasting of evidence became known as “Prisongate”. In May 2014, Chief Justice Archie instructed that the matter be referred to DPP Roger Gaspard, who said in a media release that the matter warranted a criminal investigation. That July, Debideen attempted to introduce an explanation to Master Sobion-Awai but it was denied. In October, ACP Donald Denoon told the Sunday Express that several attorneys were interviewed and he expected the matter “to be concluded soon”. It is still ongoing.
The context widens in November 2010 when one considers the case, known as “The Walking Files”, in which attorney Mark Seepersad reported to the High Court that he shared office space with Ramdeen. On Ramdeen’s departure, he discovered in the office confidential High Court documents and personal belongings of one Asha Harripaul, at the time a judicial support officer.
The judiciary reported the matter to the police. Investigator Sgt Guevarro submitted a report in May 2011, detailing responses from Seepersad. It was concluded then that matter did not warrant further investigation.
After a Sunday Express expose in 2015 Seepersad said he was never interviewed. Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams then directed ACP Simon Lendor to re-open the matter. Senator Ramdeen claimed that he was questioned by the police, but no mention was made of the “Walking Files”. The investigation continues.
The context widens further, involving prisoner Michael Bullock, a former client of Senator Ramdeen. In February 2009, Master Paray-Durity made an award to Bullock, but in December 2001 that same year, unknown to Bullock, the monies were deposited into Senator Ramdeen’s account. Bullock wrote to the AG and Law Association. Last February, eight years later, the senator paid Bullock $407,000. The Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau continues its work.
Both Ramdeen and Debideen came in for severe criticisms from Sir Anthony Coleman, chairman of the Commission of Enquiry into Clico, who blamed them for the delays in that matter. Last year, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi revealed that Senator Ramdeen’s State briefs under the People’s Partnership government, totalled some $36 million; the Senator responded, giving up all his State briefs.
A still wider context? Should any of these matters go before the new judges will Senator Ramdeen be shouting “victimisation”?

—Keith Subero is a veteran journalist