Twelve days after the proclamation of a contentious provision of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act which allows UNC financiers Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson to escape prosecution, Government is in retreat.
The proclamation on August 30, which came like a thief in the night, was done while the country was celebrating the golden anniversary of Independence.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar held an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the issue yesterday. And even before the meeting was over, Government had convened a special meeting of Parliament for today to repeal the measure.
This sharp about-turn comes in the wake of a terse statement from the US reminding the Government that Galbaransingh and Ferguson were still under indictment in the United States and that their extradition was still being sought.
It also follows a statement from Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard that he was "gravely concerned" and was considering his options.
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley also issued an equally forceful statement, threatening demonstration outside the Prime Minister's office as a prelude to a petition to the President "seeking protection from the vulgar and corrupt actions of the Government".
Parliament would have to meet quickly—with the House of Representatives debating and passing the repeal of the provision by tonight, followed by the Senate doing the same thing tomorrow. The President would also have to proclaim the measure, following Cabinet's decision to issue such advice to him.
All this would have to be done expeditiously in the hope of battling the clock as both Galbaransingh and Ferguson have already petitioned the High Court seeking to have the corruption charges against them discharged.
They are doing so under Section 34 of the new Administration of Justice Act which allows accused persons to apply a judge to throw out a case if more than ten years have passed since the commission of the alleged offence and if the trial has not started.
The court is on vacation until next week but sources said both men could get a judge to hear the matter in an emergency session.
But is Parliament too late? There is growing consensus among the country's Senior Counsels that the Parliament may not be able to undo the damage or to fix the "mess" that has been created. A prominent Senior Counsel told the Express yesterday the two men could challenge what the Parliament is attempting to do and to argue in a court that they had vested rights which cannot be taken away retrospectively. Even within the Opposition this view was being discussed.
Five clauses of the bill were proclaimed on August 30. Four of the clauses are of little consequence. The only significant clause is Section 34.
Galbaransingh and Ferguson are accused of bid-rigging and conspiracy to defraud the Government of Trinidad and Tobago during the period March 1, 1997 to December 21, 2000, under charges which arose out of the Piarco Airport Terminal construction.
They, along with several others, were initially charged when the PNM was in office.
Because of the public awareness that Galbaransingh and Ferguson were significant financiers of the ruling UNC party, there was inevitably high interest in their case.
The Opposition has suggested repeatedly that justice was not being blind in the matters involving the two financiers. And recently the Attorney General sued Rowley over statements made after the State chose not to appeal the decision of Justice Boodoosingh who ruled that the best place to try them was Trinidad and Tobago, preventing their extradition to the US.