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Trinidad & Tobago: Continuing Fallout from Section 34

The fallout from Section 34 and the firing of Justice Minister Hubert Volney continues to be discussed via social media, with netizens weighing in on the (in)adequacy of the Prime Minister's actions, the scope of responsibility for the legislation, Volney's fitness to sit in Parliament and the long-term political implications of the situation.

While Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar cited Volney's failure to consult with the Chief Justice and the the Director of Public Prosecutions (as he claimed to have done) as the basis for his dismissal, Philip Edward Alexander didn't think this was proper procedure:

For all the civic lessons Kamla tried to give the nation she erred on procedure as neither the DPP not the Chief Justice can collude with the government, vet or even proof read developing legislation as that flies in the face of the separation of powers.

Until the bill becomes law you may not seek the input of either gentleman in case they have to sit on a review panel for the same legislation and you ought to have known that.

Alexander also highlighted what he saw as another problem with the legislation:

Schedule 6 of the act deals with the types of crimes that can NOT be covered by or vacated using this legislation and the country and the people have to be asking, why was white collar crime and corruption deliberately not included alongside all of the other serious crimes listed in Schedule 6?

A message calling for the firing of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan was posted on what is purportedly the official Facebook page of Herbert Volney (one of five attributed to him, several of which contain pictures of his family):

I want to thank the hundreds of people from all walks of life for your support for me and my family. We are people of faith and we are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.  We need now to pray to God for strength for our Prime Minister who is now overcome by Anand Ramlogan that she may purge herself of the influence of one who is unelected by the people.

Volney has neither confirmed nor denied that the message came from him, merely stating that the “integrity of the page needs to be investigated.”

Nevertheless, Philip Edward Alexander responded to the message and is displeased that these concerns are only being voiced now:

Herbert Volney warns the nation about Anand Ramlogan and the power he exerts over the Prime Minister and that we as a nation should be concerned.

I have one question to you MP Herbert Volney, should we have been concerned if you were not fired?

Not to discount what you said though, we have been concerned about Ramlogan from day one, but I am just fed up of the lot of you blowing whistles after the fact.

Wired868 referenced a recent interview where Volney downplayed the Section 34 controversy:

Clevon Raphael (in a Trinidad Guardian interview): (…) Do you think the PP administration could survive Section 34?

Herbert Volney: Of course… It is a ten-day wonder, if as long.

Wired868 also offered wry commentary, using a pun referencing the colloquial name for a local short-term employment program:

That’s the thing about 10-days; there is no guarantee of employment in the immediate aftermath.

Mr Live Wire wishes the self-proclaimed sacrificial lamb well on his job hunt. Without wishing to be unkind, Volney probably won’t cut it as a fortune teller.

Opposition Leader Keith Rowley posted a timeline of the Section 34 issue on the official Facebook page of the Opposition Leader of Trinidad and Tobago. On the basis of the timeline he reached two possible conclusions:

1. Based on the above Ramlogan knew that Ish and Steve had an escape route locally but corruptly decided not to appeal on the basis that there would be a local trial.

2. Even if he did not have the impact of section 34 in his mind, he is guilty of gross negligence in the discharge of his duties in not checking to see if section 34 would affect the local trials. He cannot claim ignorance or forgetfulness because the Act was passed only a couple weeks before. And at least in the House the impact of section 34 was given prominence.

Errol Fabien calls for Volney to leave Parliament

On Facebook, Margaret Rose suggested that the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution provides an avenue for removing Volney not only from the Cabinet, but also from the Parliament:

Section 49(2) (e) of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago states as follows: 49. (2) A member of the House of Representatives shall also vacate his seat in the House where-
(e) having been a candidate of a party and elected to the House, he resigns from or is expelled by that party.

Rose called on Volney's party to invoke the constitutional procedure to remove him from Parliament:

Right, so he is not fit to serve you in the Cabinet, but he is fit to serve the people of Trinidad and Tobago in the St.,Joseph constituency?? Calling on his party to invoke section 49(2)(e) of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago.

However, it was drawn to her attention that the party may not be in a position to discipline Volney:

…someone on my thread just indicated to me that UNC does not have a functioning disciplinary arm. Really? So they cannot discipline rogue members in the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago? And this is the party which leads our coalition government?

Commenter Rennie Mohan indicated that the party is going through a period of dysfunction:

the party organs are not functioning under this new natex that won in 2010-no quarterly congress, no yearly assembly (which appoints the disciplinary committee) no annual constituency congress for elections of officers, so far there was only one women and youth congress which is suppose[d] to be a yearly event to elect the women affairs and youth affairs officer

Clarence Rambharat added that these issues have long been problems within the UNC:

It's been a longstanding issue with the party – was a big thing when the Ramesh expulsion went to the membership. Was one of those Panday things…but I think Volney will walk.

Jumbie's Watch called for not only Volney, but also for the Prime Minister, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs to be dismissed:

In the interim, public outcry and the call for a scapegoat was answered when the Prime Minister gave the nation the head of Hubert Volney. I suppose this is another instance where he ‘acted on his own accord’ and hoodwinked Parliament, Cabinet and several ‘Silks’, including the Prime Minister, the Minister of Legal Affairs and the Attorney General. Thus he is the easiest and most sacrificial ‘goat’.

What is unanswered is how 4 legal minds of the ‘calibre’ of Volney, Ramadhar, Ramlogan and Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who were awarded ‘Silk’, can be so obtuse as to fail to foresee the repercussions of the Act, including the section 34. Can we say they deserve ‘Silk’ for failure to recognise the legal backlash of this legislation? Or was it seen, planned and hoped that it would not be noticed for what it was?

In a followup post, Jumbie's Watch lamented what he deemed the basic incompetence shown in the Section 34 affair and reiterated his call for all of those in charge to be dismissed:

We have different stories on how Volney came to be dismissed. First the PM announced she fired hiim. Then he claimed he resigned, and said Warner knew he resigned. This morning Warner says he knew no such thing.

What this series of disjointed and uncoordinated presentations show me is a Government that hasn’t the cooperation (with each other) needed to run a party, far less a country. It is amateurish, and downright worrisome, that these people cannot support each other, nor present a united front! If there is any indicator that the PP is unsuitable of governance, it is this. if they cannot present a united front to the citizens they represent, how can we expect them to provide a united front in international relations?

Needless to say, this is a failure of monumental proportions, a ‘pile’ up the backside so big, sitting still is impossible. The ONLY answer is the resignation of the 4, or the unequivocal firing of the 4 by the President.

  • karen Bart-Alexander

    Even the President has been caught napping on this one. Any attempt to prosecute these men further in this country will amount to an abuse of process. The publicity itself will prevent them from having a fair trial. What a mess. Everything turn old mass for innocent and guilty. An independent investigation is required of the Section 34 matter.

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