T&T PM, Opposition Leader agree on campaign finance reform, anti-gang law

(Trinidad Guardian) Don’t expect Parliament to resolve the 53 unfinished matters left in limbo by former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar. The Government, Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions will have to come up with a solution.

This was the lone issue Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar could not see eye to eye on following a three-hour long meeting at the Parliament Building, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

Having met to iron out issues on self-governance for Tobago, anti-gang legislation, the judiciary, Integrity Commission, campaign finance reform, a code of conduct for Parliamentarians and service commissions’ effectiveness, Rowley said while their discussions were fruitful and productive, they could not come to an understanding on the main problem of the backlog in the courts and the furore in the judiciary due to the Ayers-Caesar fiasco.

“The unpleasant fact is that there are persons who are incarcerated and whose cases cannot progress through the courts because of recent developments,” Rowley said.

Rowley said last week when he noted the matter may end up in the Parliament, it was after the AG came to him with proposals from the DPP indicating the solution could be legislative through the Summary Courts Act and Preliminary Inquiry Act.

But after suggesting this with Persad-Bissessar, he said, “The Opposition Leader made it quite clear that the Opposition is not prepared to support this approach, because they do not believe that that approach is sound and there would be more problems created than solved because people who are affected have already begun to challenge the situation and that there are certain rights, privileges and protections to which they are entitled and this arrangement of having the DPP intervene and make rooms and interventions would trample on some of those rights.”

He added: “That solution did not find favour with the Opposition. That to me is a clear signal that all the persons involved need to take that on board.”

Those involved, Rowley said, are the DPP and the CJ.

Rowley said Persad-Bissessar made it clear that whatever they legislate “would be open for challenge” against the argument used in the judgement of the repeal of Section 34. He said Persad-Bissessar suggested a tribunal be used under Section 137 of the Constitution.

Asked if he would consider this route, the PM said: “I am not going to advise myself on this matter. So I will say no more on it for the moment.”

However, he said the Opposition pointed out that there was pertinent information that was unavailable and would only become available and established by way of a tribunal.

Asked if they had explored whether the JLSC should be held accountable to a committee of Parliament, Rowley said no.

Given the nature that people are incarcerated and their rights being infringed, he said the Government would not want to fight the Opposition. Rowley said having listened to Persad-Bissessar’s argument, he agreed there was good reasoning on her part.

“If we don’t solve the problem we might create new problem,” he added.

At the same time, Rowley said it appeared that the judiciary was having difficulty in a way out.

“So I would wait to be properly advised on this matter.”

While Opposition Senators have called for the removal and Chief Justice Ivor Archie, the PM said this matter was not raised.

What was agreed to: 

Internal self-government for Tobago: Bring to Parliament by way of Cabinet what has been produced from Tobago in the form of a draft legislation and put this before a House Committee of Government and Opposition members to undertake a consultation and try to come to decision of what the people of Tobago want.

Campaign Finance Reform: Have this legislation enacted before 2020 general election. The matter will also go before the Law Reform Commission as an assignment and to conduct whatever public consultation is required, as well as to come up with a Green and White Papers for consideration of Parliament.

Anti-gang and bail legislation: It is the Government’s intention, through the Attorney General, to bring to Parliament the anti-gang and bail legislations. The Government will introduce any amendments that may be required to consider improvements or concerns the Opposition may have which will remove all obstacles in passing both legislations.

Crime: The Government will provide by month end an update of its crime fighting initiatives. On the legislative side, both leaders agreed, by way of the AG, to repeal and replace the current arrangement for a Commissioner of Police.

Service Commissions: Insisting that there was poor accountability and questionable performance, the PM said the service commissions will be reviewed and adjustments made. They agreed that T&T should pattern a Canadian model with respect to the commissions’ modernisation.

Integrity Commission: PM expressed his view to Persad-Bissessar that the commission has lost the confidence of the national population. The IC will be reviewed and other models will be considered to bring about results, which will be taken to Parliament once there is Opposition support.

Code of Conduct for Parliamentarians: Rowley will ask the Clerk of the House to canvass the Commonwealth, including the Parliamentary Association, to have a proper code of conduct for Parliamentarians.

Jobs: They agreed to legislative reform of the Severance Benefit Act to treat with the closure of companies.

Economy: Rowley gave Persad-Bissessar the assurance they are trying to secure jobs, while they fight to increase the country’s revenue.

Couva Hospital: Rowley said while the Government tried to get a private/public participation on the operationalisation of the hospital, the response was not encouraging. The Government may change its position and reopen the hospital seeing that the main block of the PoS General Hospital is not structurally unsound and would have to be demolished and replaced by a new building.

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