Thursday, February 22, 2018

Get out of the way, Madam PM

Express editorial logo406

Mark Fraser

 The shock effect of the Dana Seetahal murder has also quietly made itself felt in matters given rise to by the former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell’s letters about prison litigation. Inevitably, last Sunday morning’s horrific event of the jurist’s demise overshadowed the active and pending files of some legal and judicial questions.

One immediate result was the postponement of a meeting that Attorney General Anand Ramlogan had been assigned by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to convene of officials and stakeholders connected with allegations of irregularities and worse related to litigation on behalf of prison inmates. 

Indeed, Ms Seetahal’s last Express column had been aimed at joining the debate over the handling of complaints about unethical or criminal wheeling and dealing, involving lawyers and prison inmates. Headlined “Investigate what exactly?”, that column critiqued the approach taken by the former solicitor general in calling too sweepingly for an investigation. “An investigation by whom and into what?” the late senior counsel queried, noting that Mrs Donaldson-Honeywell had left those questions unanswered in relation to three “circumstances” she had flagged.

Though Ms Seetahal, and also Senior Counsel Israel Khan, had publicly faulted the former solicitor general on technical and procedural grounds, strong sentiment remained that an investigation, or investigations, ought to be pursued. Feeling was equally widespread that Mr Ramlogan should not be seen, in any way, to take part in any investigation of his office, or of matters allegedly occurring under his watch.

Ignoring such sentiment, however, in a widely criticised move, Mrs Persad-Bissessar had tasked the Attorney General to bring together key officials and stakeholders, including the Prison Officers Association (POA), to recommend a “way forward”. Though the exercise had not been labelled an “investigation” by the Prime Minister, it appeared to be a way of circumventing an intuitive demand to find all the facts, and render them transparent. Rapidly, however, the Prime Minister’s tactic that fell short of an investigation appeared to be torpedoed by the POA’s refusal to take part. Almost at once, the traumatic impact of the Seetahal killing occasioned a postponement of Mr Ramlogan’s getting started along the path chosen by the Prime Minister.

One little noted but hopeful response, however, suggested that the Prime Minister is likely rethinking her own troubled approach. “The Honourable PM will also use this period to give deeper consideration to the concerns expressed by the POA,” the AG reported last week. By now, such deeper “consideration” must have had its effect. Moreover, now that the Director of Public Prosecutions has called for a police investigation, and the Law Association is looking into alleged ethical violations, there seems little for the Prime Minister to do, more than to formally bow out of the matter—and let the law take its course.