Sunday, April 14, 2013

Guest commentary: The Section 34 fault line - by Dr Hamid Ghany

Dr Hamid Ghany
In a story by Asha Javeed in the Express on October 4, 2012, under the headline Ish, Steve will go free, she reported on comments made by Independent Senator Elton Prescott as follows: 

“It is my view that those applicants under the now repealed Section 34 are going to challenge the constitutionality of the repealed legislation and it is my view that they will do so successfully.” The normally reserved Prescott prefaced his comments by stating he was “not going to protect myself today.”

This report was from a forum hosted by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) at the University of the West Indies on October 3, 2012. The intellectual thrust of that forum had effectively put the Government on the defensive regarding the controversy surrounding the early proclamation made by His Excellency Prof George Maxwell Richards on August 28, 2012, in Legal Notice No 348, which was published on August 30, 2012.

That legal notice said inter alia: “And whereas it is expedient that sections 1, 2, 3(1), 32, 34 and Schedule 6 of the act come into operation on the 31st day August, 2012…” 

It was this part of the legal notice that created a huge firestorm of controversy in respect of one of the five sections (Section 34) and Schedule 6, which were proclaimed by the president. Parliament was recalled on September 12 and 13 for the repeal of Section 34, to which president Richards gave his assent on September 14. The political controversies intensified afterwards.

The PNM led a march on September 18 and the president travelled earlier that very day. This left acting president Timothy Hamel-Smith to receive the protesters. That would lead to its own controversy later. However, the PNM left open an anti-Section 34 petition at Balisier House for five weeks until October 22 so that they could present a petition to president Richards upon his return on October 23.

Further protests continued in Port-of-Spain on November 2 and by December 7 there was leaked correspondence between president Richards and the Leader of the Opposition Dr Keith Rowley, shortly thereafter that made its way into the media. 

As the protests had mushroomed between September 18, when the PNM took their first initiative, up until the delivery of the judgment of Justice Mira Dean-Armorer two Fridays ago in the constitutional matter involving the legislation that repealed Section 34, a Round Table had been formed. 

The genesis of the Round Table came out of the leadership of the PNM and ended up being chaired by David Abdulah of the MSJ. Their primary quarrel with the Government revolved around the issue of what they called a “criminal conspiracy” by certain ministers to facilitate evasion of prosecution for certain financiers of the UNC with the early proclamation of Section 34.

For months this argument had raged and, politically, the final political blow was to have been delivered to the Government two Fridays ago, as there was an expectation that “those applicants under the now repealed Section 34 are going to challenge the constitutionality of the repealed legislation and it is my view that they will do so successfully” as had been first stated publicly by Senator Prescott at the UWI Forum last October.

The expectation was high and the decision of the judge did not go the way that some had predicted. The political effect of that was that the Round Table was left only to repeat that there was a “criminal conspiracy” surrounding the early proclamation of Section 34 because their other talking points had been neutered.

Two days after the judgment, the Sunday Express, under the byline of political editor Ria Taitt, revealed the contents of a letter that had been sent from former president Richards to Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar. That letter effectively confirmed the inside fault line that lay in the Section 34 argument that had been made publicly for months. That fault line was that there could be no criminal conspiracy without the involvement of the president.

Those who chose to leak this letter from president Richards, four months after it was written, may have thought that they would reveal a new side to the story in order to keep it alive. 

The reality is that the letter revealed that the former president was asking questions in December that he should have been asking in August before he signed the proclamation contained in Legal Notice No 348 of 2012.

The leaked presidential letter exposed the fault line in the Section 34 argument about a criminal conspiracy because the final approval could only come from the president himself. 

The Round Table would not want to say that president Richards showed bad judgment in acceding to the request of the Cabinet for early proclamation as that would raise questions about his entire presidency.

The latest leaked presidential letter in this whole Section 34 controversy has now confirmed president Richards’ performance last August which has caused the criminal conspiracy argument to now become checkmated.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai