Anand's narrow agenda
The local government elections are now over. During the campaign the AG revealed details of confidential information to which his office has access. He likely diminished the public's expectation that the State still holds an individual's privacy inviolable. In all of it, the PM, a defender of constitutional privacy in 2010, stood behind her AG, proclaimed him the "best man for the job" and yesterday watched her Partnership lose more ground.
Despite all the low-life campaigns the country has endured, the line between political picong and constitutional privacy remains as wide as the Caroni River. The AG did not stumble over this line in dealing with ILP deputy political leader Anna Deonarine-Rampersad. He strutted over it, armed with information deliberately accessed and packaged for political theatre. He embedded elements of money, greed and murder. And ultimately, he delivered a sobering reminder that, in the hands of the wrong person, power, access and information can be transformed into tools of political survival and personal ambition. Yesterday, voters took note.
AG Ramlogan is obviously trying to create political space within the UNC amidst heightened expectation of a defeat in 2015 and political opportunities to follow. His position as Senator is tenuous, and for the long game he requires fear and a following. For a safe seat he must lift his political attractiveness but also strike fear among those whose political company he now keeps. In the UNC context that means firing at the political enemy while keeping "friends" uneasy. This AG will find support. Bar the voice of the President of the Law Association and a couple silks, much of the legal profession will readily form itself into a Chinese dragon to follow the course of the fire-breathing titular head. After all, there are succulent briefs to be handed out in this political feast. Other professions will suit up.
In search of her own political crutches, the PM supports the AG even as she contradicts herself. In November 2010 she took the high road and declared allegations of PNM spying "abominable". And, in her contribution to the debate on the Bill to prevent spying, the PM declared, “there is no greater breach of public trust for a person charged with upholding the law of a country in his governance, to knowingly, wilfully and deliberately violate the sacred trust and the rule of law.” What then is the difference between the PNM’s alleged breaches and Ramlogan’s platform revelations?
Now there's no denying the need to fully and impartially investigate the Range Rover issue. This is not a defence of potential criminal behavior and it is not support for Anna’s politics. It is condemnation of the decision of the AG to lay bare on a political platform the confidential details of a file in respect of which he has quasi-judicial responsibilities. Further, by zeroing in on one person for pure political mileage, the AG ignores and potentially messes up an investigation into all the other State actors required to commit the various crimes he imply. If crimes were committed the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Customs and Excise, and the Licensing Department must all be complicit.
The AG's Clico land transaction disclosure is even more bizarre. In stringing together a series of circumstances the AG risked listeners reading much more into the story: a gruesome killing and a head in a whiskey box; a prior land sale to the parents of a political aspirant; and, a further sale at an incredible profit to a corporate entity that will later fall into taxpayers' arms bleeding financially. Everything involving Clico and the conduct of its former owners is subject to intense investigations by the State and is the subject of a State-appointed Commission of Inquiry in which a report remains due. Throughout these matters the AG will have access to voluminous confidential information and will exercise quasi-judicial functions.
The AG’s revelations on anything involving Clico in a purely political context highlights a well-known academic debate on the unique role of Attorney’s General in some jurisdictions as titular head of the bar and legal advisor to the Cabinet. In a 1999 paper to the Judicial Conference of Australia, then AG for South Australia L.J. King, Q.C. summed up the challenge: "the distinction essentially is that the AG as law minister has, beyond the political responsibilities of a ministerial portfolio of the same nature as the responsibilities of other ministers, a special responsibility for the rule of law and the integrity of the legal system which transcends, and may at times be in conflict with, political exigencies. The AG has the unique role in government of being the political guardian of the administration of justice. It is the special role of the Attorney-General to be the voice within government and to the public which articulates, and insists upon observance of, the enduring principles of legal justice, and upon respect for the judicial and other legal institutions through which they are applied."
This bold-faced assault on Anna begs the question whether the AG's ongoing political script will be drawn from investigative reports and confidential information to which he has access. This will even concern his political colleagues as 2015 draws closer and the UNC succession plan takes shape out of another election loss.
In all of this a live issue of corruption at National Quarries escapes the AG's attention. All allegations made against Anna's political leader still escape his interest. Only matters relating to people politically opposed to the UNC, except Jack Warner, consumes the AG.
AG Ramlogan is a brilliant advocate and public interest defender now cast in the role of legal-political functionary. When opponents bring goats for votes, the AG must reset the bar and not crawl under it.