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Another scandal we’ll forget

By Raffique Shah

 Does anybody remember or know what happened with the scandalous “Section 34” issue? I recall that in the euphoria of the 50th anniversary of Independence, on August 31, 2012, some powerful person had that section of the Administration of Justice Act surreptitiously proclaimed, thereby opening a gateway to immunity (well, almost) for persons charged with corruption in the Piarco Airport matter.

It was the only section of a much wider piece of legislation that was proclaimed. When the scandal broke, the Government hurriedly summoned a sitting of Parliament at which another Bill to repeal Section 34 was debated and passed. Days later, President Max Richards proclaimed the new law.

By then, however, the horses had just about bolted the stable. Several of the accused in the decade-long airport corruption trial-without-end filed for relief. Sometime last year a high court judge ruled against them. Presumably, they appealed that decision and the matter is now lodged with the Court of Appeal.

I raise this almost dead issue in light of the latest scandal to rock the justice system, allegations by former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell that certain attorneys retained by the State may have engaged in unethical practices, or worse.  

The suggestions that attorneys and prisoners may be in collusion to milk the State have generated an outcry almost as deafening as the din that accompanied the Section 34 scandal. Just about everybody has commented on its implications and called for the head of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan.

Maybe I should rephrase that. Predictably, people have adopted partisan positions on the issue, with a few non-partisan persons and institutions (the Prisons Officers Association, the Law Association) calling for an independent investigation of the allegations.

Based on what I have read in the newspapers of Master Patricia Sobion-Awai’s ruling on February 5, and Honeywell’s letter to the Prime Minister last August, I think there is need for a thorough investigation. This should be conducted by a jurist of standing, preferably from elsewhere in the Caribbean, who has no ties or loyalties here, and before whom all parties involved or implicated must appear or submit statements.

Most of all, the former solicitor general will need to identify the persons against whom she made serious charges, to wit, that they may have engaged in an “unethical business venture” that may have had the effect of perverting the course of justice. These are serious charges, and Mrs Honeywell cannot now plead that because she has resigned the position and is in private practise, she has no obligation.

Now, having said all of that, I return to what I believe will be the outcome of this latest brouhaha: nothing!

Jump high or low, shout from the rooftops or the gutter, the Attorney General will neither step aside nor resign. The Prime Minister will not fire him, even if there is a hint of suspicion over his actions or inaction. Because if she gets rid of him, her government falls—it’s that simple.

Ramlogan is not Glenn Ramadharsingh or Chandresh Sharma or Herbert Volney or Therese Baptiste-Cornelis. He is a serious piece of work that the PM appointed to one of the highest offices in the country. Like a caricature of the notorious FBI head J Edgar Hoover, who defiantly survived several US presidents and their administrations, Ramlogan has insulated himself: he is untouchable.

So he is not going anywhere, not until or unless the electorate decides it is time to boot the UNC out of office. And however much Keith Rowley may crow, calling for elections yesterday, there is no certainty about the results.

You see, while people rant and rave and misbehave, cussing the Cabinet every single day for sins of omission and sins of commission, their memories are short. Most will have forgotten about Section 34, as I noted above. Even I have lost track of it.

Since this Government came to office four years ago, it has generated a scandal a month, or more. From promoting private Reshmi to general, to elevating every MP and senator to ministerial position, it has force-fitted a phalanx of square pegs into overstretched round holes. 

Its members have fine-tuned the graphic art of falsifying CVs. Cabinet has loaded State boards with party toadies. It has created a lodge-like fraternity among lawyers and professionals who land all the state briefs and consultancies. And it has whittled down the contractors who share the billion dollar spoils to a select few.

But who gives a damn? As long as Trinis have their high-tech cellphones, their flat screen televisions and maybe a flashy ride, they couldn’t care if “Good Friday fall on Ash Wednesday” as Sparrow sang in “Drunk and Disorderly”.

Calder Hart is almost a forgotten name, for all the threats to jail him should he land in Trinidad. Prophetess what’s-her-face is ancient history. The Piarco accused continue to live high on the hog, no fear of jail or justice. And this latest scandal in the AG’s office will die an unnatural death long before elections are held.

If you think I am a pessimist, watch how thousands will “wine in we face” as they mark four years of drunken power in a few weeks time.

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