Charging that Persad-Bissessar may have abused her office as Prime Minister by having this title conferred on herself, Rowley said, “The Integrity Commission has ears to hear and to see it. If they think it’s an act beneficial to the individual, then it is for them to intervene if they choose to intervene.” Rowley said as far as the Opposition was concerned, “this is political silk and this is a political matter.”
Addressing a news conference at the Opposition Leader’s Office, Charles Street, Port-of-Spain, Rowley said,
“We think it is absolutely out of order for the Prime Minister who made a career in the political arena, with legal qualifications albeit, to take upon herself the accolade of senior counsel.
“So we call on her to reflect. She must do the decent thing and hand it back or stand condemned of having used her office in an abusive manner to embellish her puny legal career.”
Rowley said notwithstanding her election as Prime Minister, Persad-Bissessar “does not qualify as a lawyer in the context of any of these requirements for senior counsel.”
He identified “these requirements” as the standard of excellence in practice, professional eminence and distinction in the practice of the law and to have been an outstanding advocate before the Bar.
Rowley said while Persad-Bissessar described receiving “Silk”as “the crowning glory of her career,” the vast majority of persons were questioning whether she was qualified to receive this title.
Recalling he first questioned Persad-Bissessar’s receipt of “Silk” on the very day she received it and his comments were reported in Newsday on December 31, 2011, Rowley said:
“The PNM expressed itself very early and very clearly on this matter. We stood by quietly for a few days to allow good sense to prevail and to allow others to express themselves without taint of political bias.”
He said the Opposition was “pleased that the disturbance in the Judiciary has ended, the way it has ended” with Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Appeal Court Justice Wendell Kangaloo returning their “Silk” to the President. He added, “We have an issue with the Prime Minister.”
Drawing an analogy to Napoleon Bonaparte crowning himself Emperor of France in 1852 when the Pope refused to crown him, Rowley said, “To have put upon herself that title is a political action and is in fact political abuse that will serve to tarnish the accolade that has gone to those who rightly have it befitting their service to the Bar.”
Dismissing Works and Infrastructure Minister Jack Warner’s attempt to defend the award of “Silk” to Persad-Bissessar as payback for her defending him (Warner) regarding allegations relating to his stint as FIFA vice-president, Rowley said Warner cited “the teacup case” in 2005 involving Fyzabad MP Chandresh Sharma and himself as one reason why she deserved “Silk.”
“There was never a teacup case before the court. There was a teacup issue and the Prime Minister did feature in it. Her presence in it should have caused her not to be considered for even medium counsel, far less senior counsel,” Rowley stated.
Saying Persad-Bissessar was Sharma’s attorney then and attempted to be his witness as well, Rowley said, “History will show they moved heaven and earth to try to force the DPP at the time to lay a charge against me for something which I had not done.”
He said the outcome of that incident was the Privileges Committee of the House of Representatives found no basis for any of Sharma’s allegations against him and that Sharma was suspended from the House after he refused to abide by the committee’s call for him to apologise.
Rowley said that incident also resulted in the end of then Pointe-a-Pierre MP Gillian Lucky’s career when she “refused to conspire with others to make what was not true, true.”
He added this was the same time then United National Congress leader Basdeo Panday first said “politics has a morality of its own.”
In so far as Persad-Bissessar’s tenure as a former AG being justification for receiving “Silk,” Rowley reminded reporters that it was former UNC AG Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj who hired Canadian forensic accountant Bob Lindquist “to conduct investigations into certain corrupt practices of certain colleagues of the MP for Siparia (Persad-Bissessar).”
“When Mr Lindquist started to make the lives of certain people very uncomfortable, there was a replacement of Mr Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj as AG by a certain Member of Siparia and Mr Lindquist ne’er set foot back in TT again.”
Rowley said it was only when the PNM returned to office in 2001 and Glenda Morean-Phillip was appointed AG that Lindquist was “ permitted to come back to TT and to continue his work.”
Rowley said he took no issue with Ramlogan being awarded “Silk” because “at least he has some modicum of claim.”
He said it was interesting, however, that Ramlogan received “Silk” when he was “at his nadir” and he would have to account about the transparency of the process which he used to determine who should be awarded “Silk.”
Earlier in the day at the Hyatt Regency, Ramlogan insisted there was absolutely no reason for either Persad- Bissessar or himself to return their instruments of appointments as senior counsel. Asked whether he would not be returning his “Silk” and that he felt Persad-Bissessar should also not return hers, Ramlogan replied, “Absolutely.”
He said the call which Maharaj made for Persad-Bissessar to return her “Silk” constituted “a personal attack that is spawned by a very incurable case of political tabanca.”
Describing Maharaj as a “crusader without a cause” and dismissing the argument that former prime minister Basdeo Panday (also a lawyer by profession) should also have been awarded “Silk,” Ramlogan said Maharaj was AG for part of the time under Panday.
“ He would have been the one responsible for giving Mr Panday ‘Silk.’ Why did he not give it to him? Was it because he was too busy perhaps awarding Silk to many other persons including his wife?” Ramlogan quipped.
Saying Persad-Bissessar’s serving people “off the street” and her handling of other constitutional matters qualified her to receive “Silk,” Ramlogan conceded that while the precedent for awarding “Silk” may in fact be wrong and Government was not adverse to changing the process to make it more transparent and accountable, the debate on this issue had to be placed “ in the proper context of political and social evolution.” Ramlogan said this issue should not be used to “take pot shots” at certain individuals.
He said it was interesting that Karl Hudson Phillips QC, former chief justice Michael De La Bastide and other legal minds would now raise objections regarding the process of awarding “Silk.”
He said these persons, at different points in their careers, occupied offices that gave them the authority to make that change. Ramlogan noted Hudson Phillips and de la Bastide only confined their comments to the award of “Silk” to Archie and Kangaloo.
Persad-Bissessar, Ramlogan, Archie, Kangaloo and DPP Roger Gaspard were among a group of 16 persons who were awarded “Silk” by the President last month.