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Trinidad & Tobago: Justice Minister Fired, but is it Enough?

On September 20, 2012, Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago Kamla Persad-Bissessar delivered a national address on the issue of the controversial Section 34 of the Indictable Offences Act. After laying out a timeline of the progress of the legislation and dismissing any notions of a conspiracy, she announced that Justice Minister Herbert Volney had been dismissed from the Cabinet:

I held a formal and candid meeting with Minister Volney today who has admitted that he erred.

In the circumstances, I wish to state that I have advised, His Excellency the Acting President Timothy Hamel Smith to immediately revoke the appointment of Mr. Herbert Volney MP as the Minister of Justice.

The Prime Minister's reason for Volney's dismissal was his misleading of the Cabinet as it related to consultation with the Chief Justice and the Director of Public Prosecutions about the bill:

The Hon Minister of Justice had a duty to faithfully and accurately represent the position and views of the Honorable Chief Justice and the DPP. He failed to do so and the cabinet relied and acted on his assurances in good faith. His failure to do so is a serious misrepresentation and amounts to material non-disclosure of relevant facts to the Cabinet which effectively prevented it from making an informed decision.

The Prime Minister also reacted to the opposition protests last Tuesday afternoon:

Public apathy and indifference would have been indications of jaundiced democracy and lukewarm patriotism. Your marches, comments and blogs are positive indicators of the people's political health.

I have listened to the voices of man on the street and the utterances of learned professionals from their respective platforms and understand some of the sources of confusion. And while I may not agree with all of the sentiments and views expressed, I embrace the debate and demonstration. It is your constitutional right to so do and we welcome those who feel so passionately about the state of the nation and its future.

She ended her speech by reiterating her government's commitment to good governance, stating that the country's “historic tolerance for wrong doing is over”, but aka_lol felt that the entire episode indicates the Prime Minister's lack of judgement and that this will cause the demise of the government:

It seems you were the last person in Trinidad and Tobago to realize that Mr. Hubert could not be trusted around the laws of the country. What does that say for your other choices of members of your cabinet? Is Mr. Hubert the only one who can not be trusted? Your judgment apparently leaves a lot to be desired and I now truly believe that we will have many more disgraceful and unpatriotic lies and schemes which you and your cabinet are planning to ‘unintentionally’ unleash onto the public.

TobagoDaily noted that this was the eighth minister the Prime Minister has dismissed in only two and a half years in office:

Volney's termination is the eighth to be ordered by Persad-Bissessar since the People’s Partnership assumed power in May 2010.

She also revoked the ministerial appointments of Minister in the National Security Minister Collin Partap, Minister of Planning, Restructuring and Gender Affairs Mary King, Health Minister Therese Baptiste-Cornelis, Public Administration Minister Rudrawatee Nan Gosine-Ramgoolam, Minister in the National Security Ministry Subhas Panday, National Security Minister John Sandy, and Gender Affairs Minister Verna St Rose-Greaves.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXMut3RoxL0

The Eternal Pantomime thought that the timeline laid out by the Prime Minister was obscuring the facts and that the controversy has only just started:

Another large issue that loomed it's (sic) head last night is your time line of events. You created a time-line that obscures the AG’s involvement in the passage of this Bill through Parliament. But, Madam Rani, the thing is that a bill does not pick up and walk itself through Parliament and over to the President’s House for Proclamation. People help Bills through. And while the AG in the form of Anand Ramlogan may indeed have been out of the country, someone would have acted as AG, and given the trend this year that may well have been Ganga Singh. Yet another person from the old UNC administration with clouds over his head who keeps popping up in your government. A government that is increasingly equivalent to corruption. So if the AG wasn’t here at the time of proclamation, who was acting in his place? Further, I am advised that even though Ramlogan was out of the country from July 20th to August 4th, the cabinet meeting to proclaim Section 34 occurred on August 6th. Was Ramlogan not here, then too?

She also felt that Volney's dismissal was more out of political expediency than out of principle:

In another instance, you claimed that up until Wednesday of this week that you were still investigating matters and only removed Volney as a Minister yesterday. That’s a misspeak, Rani….you fired Volney over the weekend. How do I know? You had one of your favourite Ministers announce it at a crucial COP meeting at the start of this week. You’ve known since Monday that Volney was fired. So, why wait until Thursday to announce it? You wanted to see if the march would be successful to know precisely what your government would be pressured to do? That was just the first, Madam. We want you out…ALL of You!

Plain Talk also felt there were problems with the Prime Minister's timeline and that the issue simply cannot be dropped:

The fact of the matter is we cannot move on until we know where we want to go, and we cannot know that until we understand what exactly took place here. The eight hundred pound gorilla in the room is the question that STILL has not been answered, and that question is why. Why was this done? Even if we take the Prime Minister on her word and accept that Herbert Volney set out on this path to deceive the Cabinet and the nation on his own, we still do not know why, and until that matter is ventilated we cannot realistically know who else was involved, and until we know that we as a nation can have nowhere to go as none of this makes any sense.

TnT Monitor was of the opinion that whether or not the Attorney General was guilty of misconduct, he should be dismissed for incompetence:

We do not for one minute allege collusion, conspiracy or any other form of misconduct on the part of the Attorney General in this shameful episode, but we insist that he is guilty of gross incompetence if not downright negligence and palpably poor judgment for which he should be fired irrespective of his absence from the country from July 25th 2012 to August 4th 2012 and not withstanding the fact that he did not participate in the proclamation process as confirmed by the Chief Parliamentary Counsel.

According to the blog, the Attorney General's conduct in the Section 34 matter may have brought the government into even greater disrepute than the actions of former Minister Volney and may well force the government to call a snap election:

The  Attorney's General's stubborn, arrogant refusal to acknowledge that a mistake was made by the government in the early proclamation of  Section 34 and his strong denial of any wrong-doing by Volney have done as much, if not more damage to the Government's image than Volney's initial act of indiscretion and deception. The damage may be irreversible  and irreparable. It may well prove to be the catalyst for an early general  election with surprise results that could put Trinidad and Tobago back into the thieving clutches of the incompetent and intellectually bankrupt PNM. And that would be an immitigable disaster for this country, still reeling from 10 years of PNM mismanagement and failed PNM policies.

The thumbnail image used in this post, “TandT PM at MH 2″, is by Commonwealth Secretariat, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) Creative Commons license. Visit Commonwealth Secretariat's flickr photostream. The video clip on YouTube was uploaded by studio53admin.

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