Opposition politicians want new head of state to raise section 34 issue with PM

Opposition politicians Friday said they would ask newly elected President Anthony Carmona to request from Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar the reasons behind the early proclamation of the highly controversial section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act.

The section has since been repealed but critics say it was aimed at freeing two financiers of the ruling United National Congress (UNC), the biggest partner in the four-member coalition People’s Partnership administration.

Last weekend a High Court threw out a motion by businessmen Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson challenging the decision to repeal the section that would have allowed persons with matters before the court for more than 10 years to walk free and a verdict of not guilty entered against their names.

Speaking at a news conference here on Friday, members of the so-called Round Table Group, comprising opposition parties, civil society and non government organisations, said that the leaked letter that appeared in the media recently showed that the prime minister had not responded adequately to the concerns raised by former president George Maxwell Richards on the issue.

“the response by the prime minister which she claimed to have given to the president last year was clearly not sufficient or satisfactory and this is a matter therefore the current president, President Carmona needs to pursue with urgency and with diligence.

“It cannot be that such an important issue which grave concerns to the Office of the President...would be left unaddressed,” the Chairman of the Roundtable Group, David Abdulah, who heads the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), that was once part of the coalition government,

The Trinidad Express newspaper said that Richards regarded section 34 as a “grave matter of ongoing public interest” that has shaken the confidence in the fundamental institutions of Trinidad and Tobago and told Prime Minister Persad Bissessar that he is “constrained to express my regret that I was not advised before the fact of the undertakings given to the Parliament and which would have served to secure the support of both Houses of Parliament in their entirety (for the passage of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings Act) which contained the controversial Section 34 clause).

“I am constrained in this regard, also, albeit with regret, to record that since your assumption of office the practice of the Prime Minister having regular meetings with the President (in the course of which matters of this nature could have been discussed) has not been maintained,” Richards stated.

Richards began by quoting Section 81 of the Constitution which states: “The Prime Minister shall keep the President fully informed concerning the general conduct of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and shall furnish the President with such information as he may request with respect to any particular matter relating to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago”.

Prime Minister Persad Bissessar had said publicly that she had responded to the request of the then president in a confidential letter and the statement by the government said “the article quoted information contained in correspondence” between the two leaders.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Persad Bissessar said that she was concerned about the leak of the confidential letter, with the government indicating that “under well established convention, correspondence between His Excellency the President, and the Honourable Prime Minister, is treated with the strictest confidence between both office holders, and therefore it was a matter of deep concern to the Honourable Prime Minister that information of this nature was leaked to the media”.

But Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley, who also addressed the news conference, said the prime minister appears to have been outrage only at the leak and not the reasons behind the controversial section.

“It leaves us with a prime minister, whose primary concern is not the serious crisis identified by the content of this letter but by who leaked it, where it came from, and as far as she is concerned, the most serious problem in Trinidad and Tobago is that there has been a breach of her attempt to keep this matter a secret.

“We were never to know that she was not meeting with the president. We were never to know that all these issues and put to this office holder by the president remained unanswered and that the president was being dismissed and disregarded and disrespected in this way.

“The prime minister’s primary concern is that this should have remained secret and personal,” said Rowley, adding that he would be meeting with President Carmona soon and that section 34 will dominate the talks.