Friday, December 15, 2017

Briefing Mr Ramadhar


Mark Fraser

Four years after his election former top-notch criminal defence lawyer Prakash Ramadhar stirs and sees the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). Last Friday in Parliament, the Miscellaneous Provisions (Administration of Justice) Bill 2014 had no link to the FIU. But, given the outpouring of regard and affection for Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal and her family, Ramadhar contrived a link. He has ignored every FIU report, including the one laid in January 2014 with a narrative on $1.2 billion in transactions stopped by financial institutions, and professionals and state operatives likely involved in money laundering. He did not speak on three People’s Partnership amendments to the FIU legislation in 2011 and 2012. Now, Ramadhar is awake to the FIU after four years of slumber. 

Mr Ramadhar is Parliament’s most experienced criminal lawyer, and fully understands the criminal justice system. Still, his role in government is inconsequential. Despite many opportunities to speak on the basis of his criminal justice expertise and his leadership of the COP in a coalition government, Mr Ramadhar has been risk-averse, treading water and remaining silent on major national matters.

After months of unrelenting media focus on the First Citizens share purchase and sale issues that have now reached the stage of criminal investigation, the Donaldson-Honeywell letters that raise the spectre of wrongdoing in the administration of justice, the Jamal Sambury decision that has again opened eyes to the prisons and prisoner litigation, and the leaked “new flying squad reports”, Ramadhar, as MP and political leader of the COP has said almost nothing. 

The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) falls under Mr Ramadhar’s watch. There was a whimper from him for Senator Al-Rawi to recuse himself from the Joint Select Committee’s consideration of the PCA, but no defence of the PCA and no effort to get the details that may answer the AG’s attack on the PCA.  If Ramadhar looks around he would find a stockpile of criminal justice issues on which he could speak. Among 16 Government senators not one has a command of the criminal justice system. The AG has said he has no criminal law experience. The Minister of Justice is a disc jockey and former permanent secretary with no record in national security, justice or the Ministry of the Attorney General. 

The Minister of National Security has absolutely no criminal justice experience. There are no “junior” ministers supporting the AG, or the ministers of Justice and National Security. Mr Ramadhar, the lone criminal lawyer in the Government, is stuck with birth certificates and consumer affairs. Has he noticed that?

Surely Mr Ramadhar has not looked at the Partnership’s record on criminal justice. Did he notice the shock from the judiciary when the Partnership lifted a sitting judge off his chair and placed him in an election race? 

Did he see when the PM took the much-talked-about Jack Warner and put him in the Cabinet, ultimately handing him the sensitive Ministry of National Security. Sure, the COP said things about Mr Warner. But what did it do and what did Mr Ramadhar do? Was Mr Ramadhar around when the PM nominated Reshmi to the leadership of the counter narcotics strategy and national security intelligence apparatus?

In January 2014, on the same day the report of the FIU was laid in the House, was Mr Ramadhar awake when the Leader of the Opposition read from a memo said to be written by a senior superintendent of police to the PM, bypassing his superiors. 

In Dr Rowley’s view the officer scripted for the PM what will eventually play out as the restructuring of the country’s critical national security intelligence, including Reshmi’s appointment, the removal of persons identified as having PNM links, and the creation of a single point of national security intelligence command.

Did Mr Ramadhar notice that the minister of national security spoke after the Leader of the Opposition and offered no denial? Did he notice that the PM and AG contributed to the Bill in committee and on the floor, but never denied the memo? Why has he and his party never addressed the issue head-on? 

The least the country could have expected from Mr Ramadhar was leadership on matters of criminal justice.

Did Mr Ramadhar reflect on the state of DPP’s office? As brilliant as Dana Seetahal was, look at the history of succession planning at the office of the DPP where she once served. Top talent got to a point and could go no more. 

No politician thought about carving out special prosecutor roles with competitive salaries. A few lawyers in Caribbean Airlines, NIDCO, and UTT make twice as much as the country’s DPP. What shame!

A “preferred” lawyer can write an eight-page opinion and bill a State entity $160,000. It takes the DPP four months to earn that. What does the country’s independence mean when 41 members of the House and 31 senators cannot place importance on talent, leadership, and the country’s long-term future? Why does equipment like road pavers, concrete mixers, and backhoes command more fees and attention than the best criminal justice talent this country has available to it? No one blinks an eye to pay $70 million to beautify a roundabout, but $70,000 a month for a State prosecutor? Now that’s a problem!

Has Mr Ramadhar considered what politicians have paid out to private lawyers in the last 15 years while State salaries have stagnated? You will gasp! Some local lawyers who are not senior counsel are currently earning $30,000 a day from the State, more than what State lawyers earn as a basic salary in a month. Open up the records, let the people see! 

While Mr Ramadhar dreams of giving the FIU more powers, how about more criminal justice resources to the agencies that can investigate and bring criminal charges for money-laundering? 

Wouldn’t that be a nice change of pace, Mr Ramadhar?

• Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and a university lecturer