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Public must know the real truth about proclamation of Section 34

Published: 
Sunday, January 31, 2016

The public perception is that Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011 was a conspiracy hatched in the bosom of the Partnership government for it to use the Parliament to pass a law and to proclaim it as law for the benefit of financiers of the then government. The proclamation of Section 34, unless it was repealed, would have enabled the said financiers not to face trial in T&T on serious criminal charges which were laid against them. 

The Partnership government had already decided by its actions that they were not to face trial in the USA. 

If this perception was true, the proclamation of Section 34 struck at the heart of honest, constitutional governance, and governance based on the rule of law. 

Following the proclamation of Section 34 there was widespread public disquiet and public condemnation against it, since it was perceived to be a corrupt act. 

The then leader of the Opposition Dr Keith Rowley, together with the Round Table, mobilised the country calling for an independent investigation into the full circumstances surrounding the proclamation of Section 34 in order for the country to know the truth. They also called for the repeal of Section 34.

The then prime minister and the then attorney general, who are both lawyers, explained their conduct in sitting in the Cabinet and proclaiming Section 34—they stated that they were not aware that the effect of proclaiming Section 34 meant that the said financiers of the then government would not face trial in T&T. 

The then Opposition, the Round Table, and the national community sustained the condemnation of the Partnership government for proclaiming Section 34 until the general election of 2015. 

They maintained the position that the country must not forget Section 34 and that the people must know the truth. The members of the Cabinet selected Section 34, from an act which contained several sections, in order for the President to proclaim that section on Independence Day 2011.

The then president, His Excellency George Maxwell Richards, called upon the then prime minister to conduct an enquiry into the proclamation of Section 34. She refused. The succeeding President did not follow up on the actions of the last president. 

The Opposition and the Round Table condemned the inaction of the then prime minister in not following the advice of the former president. They also condemned the inaction of the new President for not continuing the position taken by the former president. 

The widespread condemnation of the Partnership government and the pressures exerted by the Opposition and the Round Table forced the Government to enact a law to repeal Section 34. The said financiers challenged that repeal in court, and the Privy Council ruled that the act which repealed Section 34 was constitutional. 

The Partnership government spent taxpayers’ dollars in the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Privy Council to retain lawyers to meet the legal challenges filed in order to have the law declared unconstitutional. The taxpayers of our country would have to pay millions of dollars in legal fees and expenses in respect of those legal challenges. 

We have not been told what the new Government intends to do about the concerns which were expressed by the public, by the then Opposition and by the Round Table on the proclamation of Section 34. 

The people who are responsible for proclaiming Section 34 have not been made to account to the country for their actions. The public needs to know who would be held accountable for using taxpayers’ money to retain lawyers to fight for the repeal of Section 34.

Since this was an important part of the general election campaign, it would have been reasonably expected that the country should be told the truth about the proclamation of Section 34 and that it be high on the agenda of the new Government. 

We have not been told by the new Government of any plan it has for the people to get to know the truth behind the proclamation of Section 34.

I, like so many citizens who marched the streets of Port-of-Spain with the Round Table and the then leader of the Opposition to put pressure on the last government to know the truth, believe that steps must be taken for the public to know the real truth about Section 34. 

I call upon the Government to tell the country what plan it intends to implement for the country to know the real truth about the proclamation of Section 34. 

Steps must be taken for the public to know the truth—whether the prime minister, the then attorney general, and all the members of the Cabinet in proclaiming Section 34 did not know that the effect of doing so meant that the said financiers of the Partnership government would not face trial in T&T for the serious offences which they were charged. The public expect action to be taken by the new Government in this respect.

The reasons which prompted the marches and the demonstrations and the meetings when Section 34 was proclaimed are still relevant today and the new Government, which was in opposition then, has an obligation to take steps for the country to know whether the public perception that there was a conspiracy in the bosom of the the government to free the financiers was true.

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