Ramlogan: MPs should man-up, apologise to T&T
An "oversight" by the "entire Parliament".
That's how Attorney General Anand Ramlogan yesterday explained the crisis created by Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act, which has provided an avenue for businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson and others charged in the Piarco corruption scandal to escape prosecution.
Ramlogan called on every member of Parliament to "man-up, take responsibility and humbly apologise" to the population for the "failure to appreciate the unintended consequences of the provision".
Ramlogan has been under pressure for his role in the early proclamation of Section 34. But the Attorney General hit back at his critics, saying if he should go, so should Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, who supported the measure when it came to Parliament last year.
Ramlogan piloted the repeal of the clause at an emergency sitting of Parliament, which he said would bring the "guillotine" down on "the neck and back" of the problem.
He said the Government and the Prime Minister acted responsibly as soon as it became evident there was "public disquiet" over the matter, shortly after its proclamation of Section 34.
The Attorney General said as soon as he met with the Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, who expressed his own concerns, he sought "an immediate audience" with the Prime Minister.
"The Honourable Prime Minister, at 7 a.m. yesterday, immediately upon listening to those concerns raised by the DPP... decided that Parliament must reconvene and we must come to repeal that provision.
"And that was communicated to the Member for Port of Spain South at around 8.30 a.m. We have the phone records.
"So I found it strange that after we tell them we going to convene the Parliament and repeal the law, we all of a sudden hear a (Opposition) press conference advertised for 10'o clock, saying they go march outside the Prime Minister's office, they go petition, they go flood the streets of Port of Spain if we don't call the Parliament."
Amid peals of laughter from his colleagues, Ramlogan declared, "They actually attempted to steal a political march on the Government!" He accused the Opposition of playing politics and "gamesmanship" and urged them instead to "rise to the occasion".
He said the amendment would provide for clause 34 to be repealed with retroactive effect so that it would address pending applications by persons seeking to have their criminal prosecutions dropped on the basis of the original clause.
The original clause provided for cases to be thrown out ten years after the commission of the offence if the trial had begun. (Galbaransingh, Ferguson and others charged in the Piarco scandal have applied to the court for the matters to be discharged.) Ramlogan said the amendment would include the insertion of a clause stating that "all pending applications shall be permanently stayed".
The amendment would also include a stipulation that no expectation or rights were deemed to have been created during the period between proclamation and repeal of Section 34.
These amendments would "immunise the State from possible legal challenge", he said.
Ramlogan said Section 34 was introduced in the Senate by a motion put by Justice Minister Herbert Volney. He said the Opposition and Independent senators voted for it. The provision then was brought to the House of Representatives (as Senate amendments to the Administration of Justice Act) and was voted for by all.
In fact, he said Colm Imbert had suggested the time bar be reduced to seven years. Was it to facilitate Calder Hart, Juliana Pena or was the Opposition thinking about the police investigation into Landate, the Attorney General asked rhetorically.
He said this Government had illustrated time and time again that it was prepared to listen in contrast to the "political arrogance" which previously walked the corridors of power.
"I don't dare to presume or ascribe any malicious motive for the Parliament to say that it legislated with any personalities in mind, whether it be Andre Monteil, Calder Hart or anybody else.
"I would not say that Parliament acted in bad faith... This idea of a political conspiracy between the Government, Opposition and Independent, all of whom voted for this, is fanciful and inherently incredible and I reject it and dismiss it outright," he said.
He said the law, having been subjected to public scrutiny, and concerns having been articulated, the People's Partnership Government... has demonstrated time and time again that it is prepared to listen.