OUT: Herbert Volney
Govt faces 4th TEST
By-election in St Joseph, Volney vacates
Ria Taitt Political Editor
An election-weary Trinidad and Tobago will face its fourth election this year, unprecedented in the country’s political history.
A by-election is now certain in the marginal seat of St Joseph. The deadline for the holding of this election is December 23—two days before Christmas.
This fourth election has come about with the announcement that Herbert Volney has given notice that he would vacate the St Joseph seat with effect from Monday.
It would be a critical election for all parties—the ruling People’s Partnership coalition, People’s National Movement (PNM) and Independent Liberal Party (ILP).
The PNM made a clean sweep in the Tobago House of Assembly elections in January, while ILP interim leader Jack Warner registered an historic victory in Chaguanas West in July.
Still to come are the local government elections, scheduled for October 21; and the St Joseph by-election, whose date the Prime Minister would have to determine.
Yesterday, Volney, who initially said he planned to fight to keep his seat, told the Express he decided to “let the politicians fight it in the court of public opinion”.
In a release issued on the letterhead of his constituency office, Volney said senior counsel had advised him he had a strong “justiciable” case against House Speaker Wade Mark to “challenge and upset his ruling”.
However, he said, he decided not to contest Mark’s ruling for several reasons, “including the cost of litigation, the perpetuation of State-sponsored political ridicule and harassment by supporters of the Government, and the absence of access to the appellate jurisdiction of the Privy Council or the Caribbean Court of Justice”.
The release was signed by Mark Dolsingh, manager of the St Joseph constituency office.
House Speaker Mark had made a declaration invoking the Crossing of the Floor Provisions of the Constitution on September 9 (budget day), on the basis that Volney had resigned from the United National Congress (UNC), on whose ticket he fought the 2010 general election.
The Speaker’s declaration had followed a letter written to him by the Prime Minister, informing him that Volney had resigned, and calling on him (the Speaker) to invoke the Crossing of the Floor Provisions.
The Constitution gave Volney the right to initiate legal proceedings within 14 days of the declaration to challenge the Speaker’s position. His failure to do so means the matter takes effect on the deadline date.
Volney, a former High Court judge, was asked whether he did not have confidence in the local judiciary. He replied: “Let’s put it this way, it would have made a big difference to me if I knew I had the comfort of going to the Privy Council.”
UNC deputy political leader Suruj Rambachan said the People’s Partnership would begin the process of looking for a candidate for the St Joseph seat.
Rambachan said he was surprised because Volney indicated he was going to fight his cause.
Rambachan said he felt Volney was “set up” by Jack Warner, who was looking for another opportunity to have a by-election.
“He set up Mr Volney for the fall. Mr Volney bought into the bait, he nibbled and he has now found himself out in the cold. It is very unfortunate for Mr Volney, but that is the nature of Mr Warner, who is very deceptive in what he does and in how he approaches things,” Rambachan said.
Asked whether the ILP would be a factor in the by-election, Rambachan said in politics one has to wait and see what the people say since they are the final arbitrators.
“But people are beginning to see the deception of Mr Warner, who rode the backs of the people of Chaguanas West to get where he wanted to get, and now he has turned his back on them, just as he has turned his back on Mr Volney.”
But Volney denied he was set up by Warner. He said it was Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar whose action triggered the process leading to a by-election when she wrote the Speaker.
“I have not resigned (as a Member of Parliament). The Prime Minister and the Speaker put me out of the House. How does Jack Warner come into that?” Volney asked.
Opposition Leader Keith Rowley’s response to Volney’s official departure was: “Good riddance.”
Rowley said the country had confirmation from Warner that Volney, as a sitting judge, entertained the requests of Persad-Bissessar, Rambachan and Warner to take part in partisan politics and the judge entered politics. He said therefore Volney should not have been there in the first place.
“They were all participants in something unpleasant in this country’s history and they should all get their comeuppance in the relevant elections.”
He said the PNM would put forward a “decent candidate” and win the election.
Rowley said Volney’s reasons for not contesting the matter in the court (that there was no access to the Privy Council) also cast aspersions on the judiciary.
“Volney’s ignominious end is no surprise to me. Volney has now paid the price for acting in the most unprincipled manner,” he said.
Volney said he would not participate in the by-election unless “I am needed for a rescue mission”.
He was packing up his office and would have his final lunch with his constituency staff tomorrow. He said the “burden of office” has not been easy. He predicted an ILP victory.
“Don’t cry for me, St Joseph,” he said.
Sixty-year-old Volney, who has two young children, ages nine and 4, and three adult children, said he would be unable to practise law in Trinidad and Tobago’s courts until 2030.
He said he could always get a job outside of the country, “which is not what I want, but if I can’t get a job here because of this Government, I would have to think about a job outside”.
He said right now he would look forward most to watching “my favourite programme, Bewitched, on television, as well as cricket, football and tennis”.
In the statement, Volney described Monday, September 23, the day on which his seat would be vacated, as a “day of infamy for the democratic way of life of the people of Trinidad and Tobago”.