Sunday, January 21, 2018

Govt must come clean on Section 34


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Yesterday's emergency session of Parliament has left the country no clearer about the circumstances that prompted the Cabinet's unexpected decision to activate Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011.

Against a background of growing public outrage, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan chose to go on the offensive. With a broad brush, he painted a picture across the Parliament, arguing that Opposition and Independents should share equal responsibility with the government for approving legislation with unintended consequences. He then boasted that in now moving to repeal Section 34, the government was demonstrating its willingness to listen to the people.

What was glossed over in his performance was the specific issue in between that had sent the House into emergency session. Why, having given an undertaking to the Parliament that the legislation would not come into effect until the supporting rules were in place to ensure effective implementation of the Act, did the government decide to pre-empt the process and single out the controversial Section 34 for proclamation by the President?

The public's concern in this particular issue is not about the Act itself. After all, it has long been accepted that Trinidad and Tobago stands in need of major legislative overhaul to improve the administration of a justice system that is bogged down by delays and shortcomings of every kind.

What troubles the public is the perception that in extracting Section 34 for special attention, and having it proclaimed unknown even to the DPP on Independence Day, the government might have been serving the needs of a special interest.

For the public, therefore, the heart of this issue is the matter of trust in the government.

Unfortunately, in moving to repeal Section 34, the government has chosen to side-step this issue, preferring to cloud the issue by kicking up dust.

Let us be clear in stating the minimum requirements of the government in this matter.

The government must level with the country by explaining in clear, unambiguous terms, the reason behind its decision to expedite Section 34 by sending it to the President for proclamation; it must explain, too, why it broke its commitment to Parliament to ensure that the supporting rules were in place before the Act took effect.

The statement by coalition partner, the Congress of the People, expressing "serious concern and alarm" over what it termed the "breach of an undertaking to Parliament", raises additional concerns about the exact process by which Section 34 came to be proclaimed on Independence Day.

In light of the public furore, the government must disclose full details regarding the Cabinet decision leading to the proclamation of Section 34.

Who took the note on Section 34 to Cabinet, and by what Cabinet Minute is the decision noted?

Matters of great importance to the integrity of the State of Trinidad and Tobago are at stake. We urge the government to resist obfuscation and come clean.