Sunday, February 25, 2018

AG has proven himself

Columnist Sheila Rampersad has wasted no time in targeting her favourite “whipping boy”, Attorney Gen­eral Anand Ramlogan, and has clearly taken up where she has left off at the Guardian (“Piano man unplugged”, August 30). Her penchant for criticising and condemning our young AG is well known as this is not the first time she has devoted an entire column to criticising him. 

Unfortunately, what emerges is a personal bias, instead of an objective critique of the AG by a professional journalist. Ms Rampersad is, of course, entitled to be biased, but she should declare her bias so that it will not lead readers to question her 

undoubted ability. Where a writer forms conclusions that cannot be supported by facts, the result is a skewed, biased commentary that has the hallmark of a personal vendetta, instead of a dispassionate analysis. 

Ms Rampersad writes that, “The PM’s decision to keep Mr Ramlogan for this long is a mystery to me. Mr Ramlogan has never won a parliamentary seat in an election and has no political base. He has, therefore, little political value and is politically expendable.” In the same breath, she cites Prakash Ramadhar and Gillian Lucky as positive alternatives for appointment as AG. 

Mr Ramlogan is well respected in the legal profession. With over 50 Privy Council cases under his young belt and hundreds of local cases, he has transformed and reshaped our society. He quickly became the “poor man’s champion” and was known for his willingness to take up cases and causes that the legal profession large­ly ignored. He served the downtrodden well often times without any fee. 

His ground-breaking cases undermined the PNM (People’s National Movement). He consistently won landmark cases against the Patrick Manning administration for discrimination and victimisation, on behalf of people from all walks of life. From Rastafarians to disabled people, black to white, he was arguably the lawyer that was in the highest demand. 

His pursuit of social justice on behalf of the poor made him an undeniable political asset. To describe him as “politically expendable” is disingenuous, if not malicious. The selective citation of Ramlogan’s loss in Tabaquite in the 2007 General Election under the COP (Congress of the People) to Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj is misleading. 

Anand Ramlogan ran against the toughest opponent from the UNC (Uni­ted National Congress) and man­aged to gather 5,666 votes in a UNC heartland. Only his political leader, Winston Dookeran, did better for the COP. Both Prakash Ramadhar and Gillian Lucky got over 1,000 votes less when they lost their seats. Mr Ramadhar is today the leader of the COP with a mere 3,000 votes. By Ms Rampersad’s own reasoning, I fail to see how this makes the others better political assets. 

Ms Rampersad has either conveniently forgotten these facts or deliberately ignored them in her quest to portray Ramlogan as a man without any political capital or appeal. Indeed, many remain of the view that had Panday not replaced Dr Adesh Nanan with Ramesh in Tabaquite at the eleventh hour when he realised that Ramlogan was going to contest that seat, Ramlogan may have been the lone successful COP candidate. 

Ms Rampersad charges that, “Mr Ramlogan’s Anti-Gang legislation was flawed” and cite criticisms made by his arch-rival Ramesh. Again, the truth appears to have been sacrificed as Ms Rampersad conveniently omits the salient fact that the Anti-Gang Act was the by-product of a joint select committee comprising Independent senators, Opposition members and the Government. Mem­bers included Herbert Volney, Prakash Ramadhar, Subhas Panday, Fitzgerald Hinds, Marlene McDonald, Colm Imbert, Elton Prescott and Corinne Mc Knight. 

The Anti-Gang Act was unanimously passed with the full support of both the Government and Opposition. It is ludicrous, therefore, to see Ms Rampersad heap blame and pour scorn on Ramlogan alone for this law. 

 For the record, the Anti-Gang Act is not bad law. I agree with Ramlogan that the problem is not the law but rather police investigation and enforcement. Poor investigation and detection by police have rendered many laws useless. The detection rate for murder is less than 15 per cent and the successful prosecution rate is even lower. Does it mean that the law against murder is flawed or does the problem lie with the competence of the police and its ability to enforce same? 

Ms Rampersad criticises Ramlogan for raising the idea of reversing the burden of proof in the Anti-Gang Act. She deems it a “brutish” amendment that is totally uncalled for. The reversal of the burden of proof is not “a brutish amendment” but rather a legal device that has been invoked by our Parliament before. Indeed, when Ramesh was AG, he passed several similar laws, inclu­ding the Dangerous Drugs Act and the Electronic Transfer of Funds Crime Act, where the burden of proof was reversed for several criminal offences. How come Ms Rampersad did not condemn Ramesh for passing such “brutish” laws? 

She criticises his statements on the death penalty about the validity of victims’ quest for retribution and finds it “silly” that he should ask that the death penalty be carried out for the simple reason that it is the sentence that was imposed by the court. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this statement, and whilst Ms Rampersad is entitled to a different opinion, I would not be so uncharitable or nakedly biased to describe her view as “silly”. 

Her catalogue of complaints even touched on the recent road accident involving a vehicle from the AG’s security detail. She poses questions that have already been answered by the AG in numerous media interviews, and without batting an eyelid, repeats them with the bold declaration that these questions “remain open”. Space and common sense dictate that I not repeat these answers which are a matter of public record, except to say that the allegations that the security personnel involved in the accident were private security officers simply exposes the depth of Ms Rampersad’s clear bias as it is well know that they were known soldiers on official duty. 

The attempt to pin the Section 34 donkey tail and the State of Emergency (SoE) on Ramlogan is trite and overused. The bill with Section 34 was piloted by the then minister of justice, Volney, under whose ministry reform of the criminal justice system and criminal legislation falls. The PM has already explained that Ramlogan was out of the country when Cabinet took the decision to proclaim Section 34, based on the representations and assurances giv­en to the Cabinet by Volney. 

The State of Emergency was also laid at Ramlogan’s feet when this is a collective decision of the Cabinet. Whilst Ms Rampersad is of the view that the SoE was a failure, there are many who are of the view that lives were saved and crime went down. If the police arrest citizens on the basis of insufficient evidence, I fail to see how this could be the fault of the AG. The acting Commissioner of Police and the Minister of National Security maybe, but the AG, no. 

I expected a fair and balanced article from Ms Rampersad but she fell far short of the mark. In the interest of fairness, I thought I should set the record straight. 

• Israel B Khan SC is an 

armchair politician