Thursday, January 18, 2018

Let not latecoming DPP  deny public right to know


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As the curtain rises again tomorrow on the enquiry into the collapse of the Clico-related companies and the Hindu Credit Union, a new actor waiting in the wings is clamouring for a grand entrance. That new actor is Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, now urgently seeking to play a role in which a stellar performance had been expected from him long before the start of the enquiry.

That role is the pursuit and prosecution of criminal acts, allegations about which, for nearly four years, have attended the decline and fall of Clico. Disappointingly, over most of the period, the DPP has sat on his hands, distracting himself with personal appearances in relatively minor and unrelated prosecutions.

Over that period, too, the Sunday Express reported extensively on corporate activities and practices that preceded the collapse. The reporting called attention to at least highly questionable actions by Clico directors and executives.

In response, nothing came from the DPP to suggest an authoritative pressing of questions in furtherance of his office's remit to prosecute criminal law violations.

Last week, however, having come suddenly alive, the DPP is calling for the Clico enquiry by Queen's Counsel Anthony Colman to be suspended, or for its terms of reference to be drastically varied. So far, Sir Anthony has declined to stop the enquiry. Attorney General Ramlogan has resisted pressure from the DPP for variations in the enquiry's terms of reference.

A notorious pattern of inaction by the DPP has fuelled skepticism, and even cynicism, about the capacities of that office. The Uff enquiry brought  to light sins of commission and omission, suggestive of high-level criminal wrongdoing. In the four years since, however, the DPP has been identified with no action to get at alleged wrongdoers connected with schemes worth hundreds of millions of T&T dollars.

Late in the day, the DPP is now seeking to persuade the Attorney General, the Colman commission, and the public that "a criminal investigation is now active". Depending on how this investigation works out, Mr Gaspard may, he said, be able to mount a "potentially strong and credible prosecution".

Still, it is necessary to ensure that no enquiry proceeds with reckless disregard for how its hearings and its findings could undermine prosecutions of criminal doings. Now that all involved are aware of the dangers in this regard, it should not be beyond their capacities to ensure that pre-trial publicity, for example, does not occur with the effect of dooming prospects for effective criminal proceedings.

By all means, the DPP should proceed to trial with the evidence in his hands, but his doing so should not deny the public right to know to which the enquiry gives effect.