Sunday, January 21, 2018

Say what, Mr Volney?!

Express editorial logo417

Mark Fraser

 In a bizarre turn of events, former justice minister Herbert Volney has now stepped forward to accept “full and complete” responsibility for the fiasco of Section 34. 

In a public apology to the Attorney General, seated to his right at the confessional news conference, Mr Volney offered a public mea culpa as part of the settlement of a defamation suit brought against him by the AG. 

The apology apparently opens the way for a rapprochement between the fired justice minister and the Government judging from the AG’s intent to consider Mr Volney’s suggestion of contributing to the Government’s fight against crime in a judicial or juridical role so long as there is no political affiliation.  

Whatever the deal struck between the two, Mr Volney’s statement makes patent nonsense of the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility. Worse, his explanation of how Section 34 came to be proclaimed suggests that he worked completely alone without any input from anyone else in the Cabinet. This position is squarely at odds with public knowledge of how legislation works its way through Cabinet, including in this specific case. We already know that Section 34 came before Cabinet both before and after it was examined by Cabinet’s Legislative Review Committee headed by Minister Prakash Ramadhar. 

The position is also at odds with statements made by Mr Volney just two weeks ago in his column in the a weekly newspaper where he wrote:

“I was made the fall guy for the proclamation of Section 34 when the law both in its creation and proclamation was a joint product of the Cabinet and the Legislature. I was publicly humiliated by the Prime Minister for ‘lying’ in order to obtain Cabinet approval for the proclamation note and fell by dint of the enforcement of individual ministerial responsibility.”

The mystery is how Mr Volney and the AG managed to work out a settlement in the ten days between the publication of the column and the public apology and recanting.

In the circumstances, the Attorney General is unlikely to get his wish that Mr Volney’s “clarification” will bring an end to the “political missiles” that have been hurled against him. If anything, Mr Volney’s about-turn has further confused the issue. Let us remember that Section 34 was legislation of an exceedingly far-reaching nature under which persons jailed for a defined length of time would be set free. To even imagine that a minister could be set loose to proceed completely on his own in such a matter would be to suggest a dangerous dereliction of duty by the Prime Minister and cabinet, in particular the Attorney General. Exoneration does not lie that way either.