Attorney General Anand Ramlogan yesterday put up a defiant defence of Jack Warner, praising his role in the demolition of the camp of the Highway Re-Route Movement at Debe on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is yet to speak on the issue but at yesterday's post-Cabinet news conference, ministers yesterday supported Warner in the strongest possible terms.
While observers have raised the constitutional implications of Warner's role, the Attorney General justified it, saying Warner's presence prevented the desecration of religious deities. "If Minister Warner did not go there as a representative of the Government and the people, you know what would have happened? They would have said that the army and the police were not sufficiently apprised of the religious sensitivities. Minister Warner is the one who secured the deities," Ramlogan said.
"It cannot be that people could decide to pitch a tent on State lands, call two babas, put up three jhandis and then say the land is consecrated. Can't work! That is lawlessness of the highest order!" Ramlogan said.
He added that the invisible price tag for the taxpayers would run into hundreds of millions because litigation (by the contractor) was in the making.
"It cannot be that I must sit down as Attorney General, see a train coming to hit me at high speed, and I must worry about 20 people who trying to bully, intimidate, harass and blackmailing the Government and the people of Trinidad and Tobago into stopping a multi-billion dollar project.
"That can't be right! And I have been calling for action on this matter to protect the legal position of the State, lest it be eroded and compromised any further on the altar of political expediency," he added.
Ramlogan also presented a dollars-and-cents justification, saying the country stood to lose hundreds of millions.
"Even if that matter were to go to court (as a result of action taken by the Re-Routers), the compensation would be minuscule as compared to what the country would have had to pay out—which is hundreds of millions of dollars—to the Construtora OAS (the contractor). And when you pay that, you have hundreds of millions less to complete the hospitals, to buy laptops for children...".
Ramlogan said projects of this magnitude carried great financial risk and the risk exposure from a legal liability standpoint when these projects were disrupted and derailed were quite enormous.
The ramifications and implications of the protesters who block this highway and prevented further work from being done on it are deep seated and quite dire, he said, and the Government would have been put in a precarious legal position had something not been done to deal with that matter in an effective, decisive and firm manner.
The Attorney General said Warner was subjected to the worse possible form of religious and racial abuse, inflammatory and provocative in the most vile manner.
"Not a single word has been said (by the critics) about the restraint, maturity and sensible approach of Mr Warner in dealing with this matter. Today, I invite all those who seek to criticise the Government ... to answer the question: What was the lawful right of those persons to occupy State lands, hitch a camp ... start to cook a broth ... and after they start to make curry once a day, turning into three square meals a day and then transcending into people sleeping in this camp on State lands ... holding prayers like if they start to live in this camp, and daring the Government (all the while) to move them. It cannot be that it is 'my way and no highway'," he said.
Ramlogan commended Warner for the studied restraint and maturity he demonstrated under fire.
On the argument that the constitutional separation of powers was breached, Ramlogan said the separation of powers did not mean that the (legislative and coercive) arms of the State were mutually exclusive.
He recalled that in the past national security ministers and prime ministers visited road blocks. He also recalled that when the wall of the Jamaat building was pulled down during the United National Congress' (UNC) tenure, the then national security minister " featured prominently" in that exercise.
"So this is nothing new," he said. The AG denied Warner was directing the activity of army or police, describing the assertion as "mischievous" and a "falsehood".
He said too that the Government, (unlike what happens with a squatter resident on a property) did not need to send an eviction notice to the protesters who had hitched a camp.
He noted that unlike the smelter issue, nothing had been filed in the court despite the convenient references to possible litigation in this matter to buttress the political rhetoric.
Ramlogan said the Opposition had no moral credibility or political authority to speak on this matter. He said there were images of Dr Peter Vine during the smelter protest being repeatedly dragged, kicked, tossed and thrown in the water without a murmur from Dr Keith Rowley and others.
He recalled too that he (Ramlogan) represented George Daniel who pitched a tent outside National Flour Mills in protest of its discriminatory hiring practices and that Majorie Beepatsingh, "a well known PNM supporter" and a police officer, went with police and army officers and "yanked people out of their wheelchairs, threw them on the ground, assaulted and battered them".
Ramlogan said not a word was said by Rowley and others who are now speaking out against this matter.
He noted that the Re-Route Movement started off with a protest outside the personal private residence of the Prime Minister, then a protest outside the Debe High School on Indian Arrival Day "when persons went on the private compound of the school and prostrated themselves in an effort to get the Prime Minister's security detail to roll over them".
The police forcibly removed them but they were not charged for breaching the peace, he said. Then, he added, came the final bold measure of planting a few jhandis, having a puja and consecrating the spot as if to say "well if yuh touch it now, yuh touching the Hindu community".