Good precedent, Madam Prime Minister
Government ministers have been fired by Prime Ministers before, but this is the first time in Trinidad and Tobago's political history that a minister has been fired over an issue which aroused widespread and vehement public disapproval.
Starting with Dr Eric Williams, the best response of prime ministers has been simply to shift errant ministers to other portfolios or even give them an ambassadorship. Under the National Alliance for Reconstruction regime, prime minister ANR Robinson fired Basdeo Panday and his Cabinet colleagues, not over principle, but because of a political fallout within that coalition.
Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, however, has removed Herbert Volney from his ministerial post because he betrayed the trust of Cabinet, Parliament, and the nation as a whole.
In a sense, however, Ms Persad-Bissessar had no choice. Much as people like to lament falling standards and regressive politics, the fact remains that people in power cannot get away with actions that went unpunished, and even unremarked, 50, 30, or even 20 years ago.
Citizens are now more vocal, and have more avenues to express their displeasure and disapproval.
In this particular instance, citizens and influential bodies were united in telling the Government that the pernicious Section 34 could not stand and would not be stood for.
According to the Prime Minister, the now-fired Justice Minister alone was responsible for this debacle. She spent about one-third of her speech last night emphasising that the entire Parliament—Government, Opposition, and Independents —passed the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act and denied that there was any conspiracy because, according to Ms Persad-Bissessar, that would have been possible only with the connivance of the Opposition and Independent MPs.
This is disingenuous, especially given her revelation that Mr Volney fooled the entire Cabinet.
Ms Persad-Bissessar also made sure to exonerate the other principal in this sordid affair, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, on the basis that he was not part of the process which saw an amended Section 34 inserted in the bill.
Even if that is so, however, Mr Ramlogan's failure to detect this misfeasance, plus his aggressive defence of the so-called error, should disqualify him from continuing in this important office.
Be that as it may, Ms Persad-Bissessar must be given her dues for going further than any prime minister before her. But she must now see it through. While she said only that Mr Volney had admitted to an "error", the issue as to whether there was a conspiracy to manipulate the legal process remains open, even if that conspiracy did not involve the Government.
One way or another, Mr Volney must not continue in any public office, and the possibility of legal action against him must now be explored.