Opposition says President has written government on controversial legislation

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Dec 18, CMC – Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley says President George Maxwell Richards has written Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar on the events leading up to the early proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act that critics say was intended to ensure the freedom of two financiers of the coalition People’s Partnership government.

 

Rowley told a news conference Tuesday that President Richards had written to Prime Minister Persad Bissessar on December 7 under section 81 of the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution.

The letter follows a request by Rowley and other members of the so-called “Roundtable” comprising political, civil and nongovernment organisations, calling on Richards to act in the matter.

Officials from the Roundtable met with President Richards on November 20 requesting that he launch an investigation into the controversy surrounding the early proclamation of Section 34.

“The President did indicate that he has communicated with her (Prime Minister Persad Bissessar) under Section 81,” Rowley told reporters, adding that the section “affords the President the right to request of the Prime Minister any information on any aspect…of the operation of the government of Trinidad and Tobago”.

Rowley described the letter from Richards to the head of the four-party coalition government as “significant”, adding “these things are never small, this is the operation of the Constitution.

“We as office holders in this country, recognising our Constitution, knowing our limitations and knowing where there are openings to protect the public interest we approached the President under the provisions of Section 81 and the President has in fact acted by seeking information.

“I think this is a tremendous development. It has never happened before to the best of my knowledge in Trinidad and Tobago. It is now for the Prime Minister to respond”.

In September, Parliament repealed the controversial section that that had the effect of allowing people, whose trial has not started after a 10-year period to walk free and a verdict of not guilty entered against their names.

Critics said that the clause was aimed at supporting businessmen Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, who have been described as financiers of the ruling United National Congress (UNC), the biggest partner in the four-member coalition People’s Partnership government.

The two are facing fraud and laundering charges relating to the re-development of the Piarco International Airport in 2001. They are also wanted in the United States on a number of related charges.

Their attorneys have petitioned the local court to have the charges against them dismissed citing Section 34 of the Act.

Prime Minister Persad Bissessar dismissed her Justice Minister, Hebert Volney, a former High Court judge, on the grounds that he misled Cabinet into believing that the Chief Justice Ivor Archie and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Roger Gaspard, had supported the idea of the early proclamation of Section 34.

 

Last month, thousands of people participated in street demonstrations calling for the resignation of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan as a result of the early proclamation of the legislation.

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