Sunday, January 21, 2018

AG right to stop A-2 visa abuse


TOUGH: Anand Ramlogan

Mark Fraser

Once again, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has given a legal opinion which shows that even under pressure, he is prepared to be fair, bold, courageous, tough, objective and independent.

With the responsibility to craft the Government’s ruling on whether Trinidad and Tobago should apply to renew A-2 visas for locally-recruited staff (LRS) attached to the New York-based Consul General’s office, the AG concluded that it was a misuse and abuse of diplomatic protocol and the reciprocal comity that exists between nations for Trinidad and Tobago to circumvent the host nation’s laws by employing illegal immigrants and procuring A-2 visas. He therefore directed that this policy cease with immediate effect.

But what was the genesis of T&T applying for A-2 visas for non-diplomatic staff at the NYC consulate? The A-2 is a diplomatic, non-immigrant visa which allows foreign accredited officials outside of the diplomatic category, to enter the US and engage in official activities of their government. All foreign government officials, ranking next to diplomats and officials, representing their government and immediate family members of A-2 diplomatic visa holders are eligible for an A-2 visa. The holder of such a visa cannot be tried by the US for any crime and is assured of unrestricted travel to, from and within the US.

The system was clearly abused by past PNM administration(s). If these were political appointments, then they would have been done at the behest of the government of the day which means that those appointments would end when that political regime was no longer in office.

If they were not, then can anyone say what criteria was used for the selection of candidates; when were these jobs advertised what were the credentials, qualifications and/or experience required of applicants? The only information that surfaced when these issues became public knowledge is that those selected were done “with the blessings of Balisier House”.

It is now clear that the PNM breached this policy (among others) by not ensuring that the persons had visas before their entry into the USA; the PNM facilitated this arrangement to accommodate their PNM friends and families on visitor’s visas already in the US at the NY Consulate General. Simply put, the PNM abused the courtesy of a foreign government.

Indeed, our Consul General in NYC Nan Ramgoolam has been vindicated by the decision of the Attorney General. She had been criticised by many from the former ruling dispensation who believed the PNM’s political beneficiaries who profited so long from this unethical practice was their God-given right!

It was the Consul General who initially raised the concern and had refused to continue to facilitate the visa renewals when she discovered that some nationals had gone to the USA with a visitor’s visa and they were being hired even though they were not legally allowed to work in the US.

The Consul General must now seek replacements who should be any US citizen or landed immigrant, as in legally entitled to work in the USA, to apply and be hired as a Local Recruit Staff. This process allows for members of the Trinidad and Tobago Diaspora “legally entitled to work in USA” to apply for the jobs. This is a simple process and again, was not followed by PNM administrations for several decades.

But what other political scandals are still in the PNM’s closets?

Less than a month ago, Ramlogan has thrust the responsibility for action on the Community Development Scholarship Fund on the DPP. The fund, started ten years ago, ended before the People’s Partnership Government came into office in 2010.

The Patrick Manning PNM administration had created a secret multimillion-dollar fund to provide scholarships, from State coffers to chosen applicants, many of whom turned out conspicuously to be PNM supporters. Indeed, these scholarships’ worth was in the six figures.

Back in 2008, then community development minister Marlene McDonald told Parliament that to disclose the names of those scholarship winners “would involve unreasonable disclosure of personal information”. What personal information was the PNM not willing to share on the disbursement of our tax dollars; well, PriceWaterhouseCoopers has found that there is flagrant evidence of favoritism as well as total disregard for the selection process, rules and regulations in the making of these scholarship awards. To show just how corrupt these scholarship awards were, what was the agreement for the awardees to serve and give back to Trinidad and Tobago… NONE, ZERO!

Indeed, one awaits the next move from the DPP since it has already been concluded that there is sufficient evidence against the minister to warrant charges of misconduct/misbehaviour in public office and for conspiracy to defraud.

Capil Bissoon

via e-mail