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Trinidad & Tobago: Section 34? Last Straw!

Political bloggers in Trinidad and Tobago are having a field day with the government's latest missteps. The first issue involves a motion by former Deputy Chairman of the Congress of the People (part of the current People's Partnership government coalition) stating that Jack Warner should be made to give up his position as Minister of National Security, in light of several corruption allegations against him.

There was talk that the CoP would walk away from the People's Partnership if this was not done; instead, the motion was defeated by a 91-6 vote and the CoP has remained as part of the government coalition.

Plain Talk asked:

Should the citizenry cast themselves selves into the roles of judge, jury and executioners in these matters? Of course not. This is a matter for the legal system and Mr. Warner should be given every opportunity to clear his name. But to do so while sitting as am MP flies in the face of the Parliamentary Code of Ethics and undermines the standards of that hallowed place whether we like it or not, and further, to have him function as the line Minister over the very police officers that must investigate him confounds due process in my opinion and puts the officers under unnecessary duress.

The blogger, Phillip Alexander, then proceeded to address “the waffling” on the part of the Congress of the People:

The COP release states – ‘The COP's position remains that Mr Warner should step down from Ministerial responsibility until investigations are concluded’ which sounds like a rational position until he qualifies it this way – ‘The COP is also clear that Mr Warner's refusal to remove himself from Ministerial positions puts the question of whether he should be removed as a Minister, in the hands of the Political Leader of his party and Prime Minister and not the COP.’

Now this is where Prakash is playing smart with foolishness, because the motion as worded puts the responsibility of dealing with Mr. Warner squarely at the feet of his political leader and the current Prime Minister and seeks to remove the Congress of the People from the decision as it ought to.

In a follow-up post yesterday, Plain Talk took issue with the approach to the vote that rendered the CoP motion irrelevant:

Like many organizations that use the word ‘democracy’ conveniently, what took place at Sunday's Congress of the People's National Council was anything but real democracy at work and based on the deception that was openly displayed and the flouting of the party's past precedents and espoused principles it is my view that what remains of that party is alive now in name only and ought not to be considered important to the national politics perhaps outside of being at best a UNC [the United National Congress, the political party which the current Prime Minister heads] party group.

The Eternal Pantomime, however, predicted the outcome:

So by show of hands, who here believes the COP has integrity and capable of walking away from the Eat Ah Food Buffet? Budget just around the corner and Vernon expect Ramadhar to walk away from the goodies that the Rani will be sharing out?

After Prakash showed us that his is a party of easy virtue in May of this year; the COP then proceeded to play the role of virgin in the whorehouse: trying to play all innocent and pure while consorting with what is the most rapacious, corrupt and greedy government to date.

The last time this COP threatened to walk on an issue Ramadhar went on vacation, returned and changed his tune ever so subtly, and then eventually the entire COP chorus line joined him.

The second issue that raised hackles was talk of Parliamentarians getting iPads, all part of a wider debate about austerity. The Eternal Pantomime weighed in:

Use of a tool such as the iPad, coupled with a social media platform could actually make Parliament more interactive with citizens being able to log on and weigh in on debates.

But perhaps this a pipe dream.

My instincts tell me that this will be just an accessory for most MPs. it may be an opportunity for some to secretly purchase iPads for their girlfriends and mothers. Further it may be a way for the friend of a minister to eat ah food.

If this government…both Cabinet and Opposition, was really serious about belt tightening, running the country and setting an example they’d offer to purchase their own iPads and use it as the work tool it is.

She went on to address the bigger issue:

Every single cent that has been spent by the People’s Partnership doesn’t belong to them, it belongs to the state, it comes from our taxes and our fuel revenue. Yet this lot seems to think that the treasury is their own petty cash till and they can squander it as they like.
Why do I have to submit to thrift? How exactly are citizens of this country overspending and squandering state funds?

Consider all the other areas of squandering money: a failed SOE; paying the PM’s sister to be her minder on state trips; renting a crop duster to fight crime; overspending on Government credit cards; underselling our fast ferries; use of National Security helicopters as a taxi for the PM at state expense; $2million extra given to food card holders; exorbitant independence celebrations complete with daily caravans toting the PM and her entourage…and now $10m per MP for the next 3 years with no explanation for how the money is to be managed and IPads for Ministers who probably already have government issued technology!

This government is overspending, not the citizens, and nothing that I have listed there redounds to the benefit of the citizenry.

But news that the two businessmen facing fraud and money laundering charges (and wanted for extradition by the U.S.) involving the construction of the new airport in Trinidad may walk thanks to Section 34 of the Indictable Offences Act, was the final straw for The Eternal Pantomime. [The clause, which was insidiously made into law while the country was in the midst of its 50th anniversary celebrations, basically allows for the prevention of prosecution for accused whose trial has been delayed for up to ten years after the alleged offence was committed. There are exceptions made in cases of "blood crimes"]:

I feel as if we are on the verge of collapse because what this government has shown us today is that they will rape the constitution of Trinidad and Tobago into oblivion to serve the needs and interests of its friends.

The issue of financing of political parties is thrown into full relief now because everyone should know that Ish and Steve are financiers of the UNC…they have also financed other political parties in the past, like the PNM, but they came into the spotlight in the late 90s as financiers of the UNC who managed to pour more than a billion dollars of the country’s money into their pockets under the guise of building an international airport.

In Trinidad and Tobago most people don’t take corruption and fraud crimes seriously, least of all our government and legal system…but the enormity of Ish and Steve’s theft has most of the nation up in arms for over a decade. Today, 2.5 years of cunning, conniving and corruption came to a head as we saw the hard work of Hubery Volney, Minister of Justice; Prakash Ramadhar, Minister of Legal Affairs; and Anand Ramlogan, attorney general come to fruition…in the midst of Independence celebrations for our 50th Anniversary the Govt tried to slip a new law out whereby a sub-section provided the loophole for Steve and Ish to petition the judicial system to have all charges against them be dropped.

Rhoda Bharath, the Pantomime blogger, continued:

Parliament is convening tomorrow to repeal Section 34 after The Keith breathed fire and brimstone this morning and the US Embassy issued a veiled threat in a press release.

There is, however, no confirmation yet that Ish and Steve won’t walk free…you see, they petitioned when Section 34 was part of a law….repealing Section 34 tomorrow may have no impact on Steve and Ish at all….and so, they may still walk away as free men….and then it remains to be seen what the US will do.

She was also incensed that “to date only the Leader of the Opposition and his team has spoken about or responded to the issues for the public”:

Thus far Prakash Ramadhar, our Minister of Legal Affairs…and by the way this is a post that has huge responsibilities when it comes to drafting laws and Constitutional Reform….and the Prime Minister, who is the leader of the Cabinet have had NOTHING TO SAY.

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