PRESIDENT George Maxwell Richards

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President writes Kamla for answers on Section 34 but...

By Joel Julien joel.julien@trinidadexpress.com

PRESIDENT George Maxwell Richards has called on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to provide information on the early proclamation of Section 34.

Richards, on December 7, wrote to Persad-Bissessar invoking Section 81 of the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution, calling for answers on the premature proclamation of the controversial law.

Section 34, which afforded accused persons with cases ten years old and over to walk free if their cases were not being heard, has since been repealed.

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley yesterday made the disclosure as he held his final bi-weekly media conference for the year at his Charles Street, Port of Spain, office.

Rowley was notified of Richards' move on the Section 34 controversy in a letter from the President, also dated December 7.

Richards' letter to Rowley was in response to a letter signed by members of a "Roundtable" that called on him (Richards) to invoke Section 81 of the Constitution and compel Persad-Bissessar to account for the early proclamation of Section 34.

Section 81 of the Constitution states:

"The Prime Minister shall keep the President fully informed concerning the general conduct of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and shall furnish the President with such information as he may request with respect to any particular matter relating to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago."

The Roundtable included Rowley, Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) leader Ancel Roget and Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) leader David Abdulah.

"With reference to the undated letter which I received on Tuesday, 20th November, which was signed by your good self and fourteen other persons representing various institutions, I wish to advise that by letter dated Friday, 7th December, 2012, I have written to the Honourable Prime Minister pursuant to Section 81 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago," Richards' letter to Rowley stated.

Rowley described the situation as a "tremendous development".

"Section 81 affords the President the right to request from the Prime Minister any information on any aspect of the operations of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago," Rowley said.

"I think this is a tremendous development. It has never happened before, to the best of my knowledge in Trinidad and Tobago, where the President was requested in this way by the population, and he has deliberated. It is now for the Prime Minister to respond appropriately to the President," he said.

Rowley said he was now waiting to hear Persad-Bissessar's explanation for the fiasco.

"We had written to the President's Office about a number of concerns that we had relating to how Section 34 was pulled out and proclaimed and resulted in persons being able to evade their day in court, and we complained about the strangeness of the conduct of the Cabinet," Rowley said.

"We are hoping that we will get the answer now. Why was Clause 34 pulled out and proclaimed? We know what the effect was; we know a lot of how it was done; we have some information as to who was involved. We know it was done against the assurances given to the Parliament and so on, and the President was asked to find out from the head of the Cabinet, who under the Constitution is duty-bound to report to the President on any matter concerning the conduct of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago," he said.

"We will wait on the response from the Prime Minister, and we expect that the population would be appropriately advised," Rowley said.

In response to a September petition from Rowley, then acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith conducted his own investigation and deter- mined that former justice minister Herbert Volney was "responsible for matters relating to the passing and proclamation of the (Administration of Justice Indictable Proceedings) Act".

Rowley accused Hamel-Smith of using his role as acting President to be a rubber stamp for Persad-Bissessar in the Section 34 fiasco.

Volney was fired from the post of Justice Minister for misleading the Cabinet on Section 34 and was replaced by Christlyn Moore.

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