Monday, January 22, 2018

Too much forAG to handle?


(BI) Feedloader User

While constitutional reform allegedly remains a work in progress, Trinidad and Tobago is stuck with a model of Attorney General in which the incumbent Anand Ramlogan exults, but does not invariably excel.

So far from being any behind-the-scenes legal adviser, Mr Ramlogan projects as an upfront leading spokesperson across the widest range of government policy. Though settlement of the offshore patrol vessels dispute also involved the portfolios of Finance and of National Security, Attorney General Ramlogan was cast in the singular role of the government's leading man.

Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar remains with responsibility for constitutional reform. Yet, the seminal question of Tobago self-government finds itself within the all-purpose remit of Mr Ramlogan.  

This omnipresence in government affairs has led critics to query how the notorious Section 34 proclamation escaped the Attorney General's all-seeing hawk's eyes.

Less stellar than his performance in the OPV negotiations was the episode of Mr Ramlogan's disclosures in Parliament about the fees received by lawyers for State briefs. 

It is at least troubling, however, when the Attorney General discloses in Parliament figures for legal fees paid by the State, and to identify recipient lawyers—only to have them claim that the amounts are overstated by as much as 400 per cent. It is intolerable for the Attorney General to be playing fast and loose with the quantum of public funds expended for legal help, and also to be misidentifying beneficiaries. 

But this is what three lawyers appear to be asserting before the Senate last Tuesday in response to the AG's October 18 disclosures. Nor is it satisfactory for Mr Ramlogan to demand that the lawyers state exactly how much they had collected for State briefs, while claiming to have received his figures from the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry.

The independent Central Bank should make clear precisely how much it paid for legal fees, and to whom. Also, the Auditor General should be tasked to issue an authoritative finding of what was paid to which lawyers, and for what services.

Soon, however, Mr Ramlogan was again wielding the cudgels in defence of the government, under attack by Opposition Leader Keith Rowley and the Section 34 Roundtable allies. Dr Rowley was leading a doubtful strategic thrust, urging President Max Richards to invoke, for purposes of starting an enquiry into the Cabinet, the Constitution's Section 81, which has never been recognised as empowering the head of state to take such action.

Beyond exposing the constitutional flaw in the Rowley manoeuvre, however, Mr Ramlogan's response appeared to be lecturing the President on the limits of his powers. Since the President must be assumed to have his own legal counsel, Mr Ramlogan's advice reflected a tirelessly over-zealous Attorney General over-reaching himself, and feeding suggestions that the portfolio as now scripted may be more than he can handle.