Like those in Port of Spain and San Fernando, two gaping sinkholes appeared in the Prime Minister's Section 34 statement to the country. And even though the PM narrowed the matter to a couple areas of concern, there is more, starting with these two sinkholes.
First, the PM never questioned the motives of her axed Minister of Justice in misrepresenting the facts in order to secure the earlier proclamation of Section 34. Second, while the PM used the Chief Justice's and DPP's submissions to axe the Minister of Justice, she was careful to minimise the AG's role, limiting her focus to the July/August 2012 events leading to the proclamation of Section 34. The PM completely ignored the DPP's public statement a few days before hers that, "doubtless", when the AG announced his decision not to appeal the Piarco extradition case, the AG, "must have had in mind the provisions of section 34".
Now, this is the country's DPP making a very crucial link between Section 34 and the Piarco cases, a link the Government denies. And, just as important, the DPP fixes the AG with the "doubtless" knowledge of the relationship between the non-appeal and Section 34, a full 234 days before ex-minister Volney's alleged misrepresentation to Cabinet. In effect, the PM wishes to exonerate the AG from responsibility due to his absence from the country for 14 days out of the 234 days between his non-appeal and the decisive August 9, 2012 Cabinet meeting, when according to the DPP, the AG had the sequence of events in mind since December 2011.
It should be noted that to date, the DPP's statement is the only official statement linking the non-appeal and Section 34, and, if the PM wishes to be thorough, she needs to zero in on this statement to explain why, in the investigation of the events, facts and law she overlooked this Section 34 and Piarco link consummated by the AG since December 2011.
And, this brings us back to that first sinkhole in the PM's statement to the country. While pillorying ex-minister Volney for the misleading Cabinet note, the PM does not offer a motive for the ex-minister of justice rushing Section 34 to proclamation. The PM also ignored the discussion on whether, having in May 2012 received from the DPP the list of matters benefiting from Section 34, the Government did not deem it appropriate to deal with the conflicts of interest which were now in play, with the UNC's financiers and former public officials benefiting from Section 34, early proclamation or not.
The PM also ignored the conflict of interest issue with the ex-Minister's elections campaign manager being among those who would benefit, and, she ignored the fact that the AG, being intimately involved in the Piarco matters, had a responsibility to steer the Government through these rising conflict of interest waters.
Uppermost in the mind of the PM should be this question: why, in light of the DPP's statement and the facts, the public should not believe that these events were deliberately aimed at ending the Piarco cases, from the laying of the Bill to the "hasty" proclamation of Section 34?
Now, there are more questions. The PM has focused on the proclamation of Section 34, sensing that it was both the axed minister's weakest spot, and the AG's least involved moment. But, still unanswered, are the circumstances in which Section 34 underwent that critical change, of the ten years running from the date of the offence, and not the institution of proceedings as originally intended.
How did Section 34 change between leaving the House on November 18, 2011 and its second reading in the Senate on November 29, 2011, no change having been made at the first reading?
At the beginning of ex-minister's Volney's contribution in the Senate at 11 a.m. on November 29, 2011, MP Volney spoke of a revised Section 34, without discussing its origin or the public policy considerations behind it. For the next 12 hours to midnight, no Senator referred to a revised form of Section 34.
In fact, just around 4 p.m. when Senator Prescott, SC, spoke, the Senior Counsel quoted Section 34 in the form it left the House and arrived in the Senate for the first reading. And with both the AG, and the former Minister, closely following Senior Counsel's contribution, neither rose to point out to Senior Counsel that he was quoting Section 34 in the old form. Why didn't they outline the impact of the Government's revision to Section 34?
Of course, parallel to the passage of the Bill through Parliament, the extradition decision was on the AG's mind. And, this is where the origin of the critical Senate change to Section 34 becomes important. According to the DPP, Section 34, altered in the Senate and benefiting all the Piarco defendants, was on the mind of the AG when he announced his decision not to appeal. Whose expert hands ensured that the Senate change to Section 34 and the decision not to appeal would take care of all the Piarco defendants?
The PM's statement left the DPP's opinion on Section 34 and Piarco uncontroverted, and outside of that the motive for the creation and proclamation, early or not, is doubtless. An independent examination of all the events regarding Section 34 is inevitable and critical. There are two gaping sinkholes in the PM's version of events, itself skewed to the least significant issue of early proclamation.
With a former minister of works as its party chairman, the UNC, the lead coalition partner in Government, must fill these sinkholes before they suck in the Government.
Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and university lecturer.