The PM faced a public uproar over a rush to proclaim a law that critics saw as a sly move to shut off the time limit on legal proceedings to the benefit of a few dozen defendants including two top UNC former financiers.
Facing a scandalised population — even after the repeal of Section 34 — the Prime Minister had no choice but to identify the culprit(s) in the fiasco.
She met Archie and Gaspard who said they had never agreed to any premature or partial proclamation of the bill, in contrast to the verbal and written “assurances” given to Cabinet by Volney.
In her televised address on Thursday, Persad-Bissessar sharply chided Volney for failing to give Cabinet an accurate and faithful account of the CJ’s and DPP’s views. “I hold everyone who is entrusted to their job to be accountable and whenever I feel such trust is compromised or integrity breached I will act decisively,” she assured. Persad-Bissessar vowed to differ to past regimes which had swept ministerial wrongdoing under the carpet. So far, those ministers she has fired include Minister in the Minister of National Security, Collin Partap, over a breathalyser row, and former Minister of Planning, Mary King, for nepotism, rejecting those ministers who do things inappropriately.
This is certainly the end of Volney’s ministerial career. He must now resign (or be fired) as MP for St Joseph, because he had misled his fellow MPs in Parliament over this scandal.
While no Government would want a by-election in such a marginal seat, we say Volney holds no credibility to represent those constituents. After all, his misrepresentations could well have unduly altered the course of justice in several court cases, even as he ought to have known better as a former judge.
Volney is certainly one of the strangest political sagas in TT’s recent political history. In his political-rally debut, he held up a rubber snake — likened to the PNM — of which he vowed to cut off the head. In Parliament, he once championed a bill that would let police forcibly take an intimate swab from a rape victim, but the offending clause was dropped after a public outcry.
Volney had controversy in his former career as a judge. The State successfully appealed Justice Volney’s 1998 dismissal of the “Gomes and Gomez” trial for possession of $13 million in cocaine, and a new trial in 2010 saw Rick Gomes given 26 years jail-time by Justice Gillian Lucky. In 2006, the Privy Council hit Volney’s instruction to the jury to issue a “not guilty” verdict in the Brad Boyce manslaughter trial. With this unusual judicial record, many saw Volney as a strange choice as MP and Minister in Persad-Bissessar’s Government.
Now, many are questioning Persad-Bissessar’s exoneration of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan in the Section 34 scandal. She said the Chief Parliamentary Counsel (CPC) said Ramlogan played no role in the process of forwarding a misleading Cabinet Note from the Cabinet Secretariat to the CPC and ultimately to the Office of President. Yet given Ramlogan’s previous failure to appeal Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh’s rejection of a United States extradition request for Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steven Ferguson, some critics continue to ask if he also had any role in the Section 34 scandal? Further, the AG is line Minister for the administration of legal matters in TT, and should have kept tabs on what was happening. The replacement of Volney by attorney Christlyn Moore makes us uncomfortable. She had been criticised for representing Ramlogan in his personal capacity in his defamation lawsuits against Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, while she was also beneficiary of Ramlogan’s publicly-funded State briefs.
Given these close and complex links to Ramlogan, we wonder if she will now be able to function as an independent Minister in a post whose previous occupant many critics are calling a “fall guy”, even as Ramlogan remains untouched. As said, for us it’s all a little too closely-linked for comfort.