By Peter Richards
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Sept 21, CMC – The main opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) Friday called for the resignation of the People’s Partnership government and demanded that fresh general elections be held as the controversy continues over the early proclamation of the legislation that critics say was aimed at ensuring the fraud cases against two party financiers were dropped.
“We are calling for elections now,” said Opposition Leader and PNM leader, Dr. Keith Rowley, adding “we are not prepared to accept without protest a government that is so stained”.
Rowley told a news conference that the PNM will seek to hold meetings with other organisations in the country on the matter, adding “we accept no public apology, the only thing that we will accept from here on in is the removal of the government of Trinidad and Tobago from office and to do that the PNM is prepared to cooperate with every citizen body in this country to bring that about”.
Rowley said that the party would no longer support any legislative measure brought by the Kamla Persad Bissessar administration and insisted that the government sought to provide an amnesty for the two financiers.
“We will not cooperate with this government,” he said.
Prime Minister Persad Bissessar in a national broadcast on Thursday night blamed the controversy on her justice minister Herbert Volney whom she fired for misleading the Cabinet when he said 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 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act.
“The Prime Minister and this government would want us to believe that all of these developments were just…an error and I want you to view it as a jigsaw puzzle in a box.
“Hundreds of pieces and you throw it up in the air and it falls on the floor and the Prime Minister and her friends want us to believe that these pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall on the floor and they all fall into place and fit well so you could see the picture the jigsaw puzzle is making,” Rowley told reporters.
“The scrap of Volney’s head, we want the head of everybody who shepherded this (legislation) through the system. Our parliament has been used, our Cabinet authority has been used and a handful of people with office and authority used it to have a law passed to effect the law in a certain way to create an amnesty…to head off a preliminary in the court.
“The government is guilty of facilitating criminal wrong doing in Trinidad and Tobago and on that basis we are not going to stand and settle for Volney’s head. We want every head of the hydra,” he said.
The government last week called an emergency session of parliament to repeal the controversial clause 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
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, have been 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 and in a brief statement, the US Embassy here said last week that Washington “is concerned by reports” that the fraud cases against the two men “may be dropped”
Ferguson is wanted on an 82-count indictment, including charges of laundering US$3.2 million between the period November 24, 2000 and March 28, 2002, while Galbaransingh is wanted on a 13-count indictment, including charges of laundering US$1million between the period June 19, 2001 and December 10, 2001.
Last week, attorneys for the two men petitioned the local court to have the charges against them dismissed citing Section 34 of the Act.
In their applications, the lawyers argued that pursuant to Section 34(3) (d) of the Act, they are entitled to seek an order that a verdict of not-guilty be recorded by a judge of the High Court and that their clients be discharged having satisfied both provisions laid down in the statute…”
Rowley told reporters it would be interesting to know when exactly the lawyers for the accused to have known about the controversial section that was proclaimed at a time when the island was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the political independence from Britain.
“They knew , the Gazette is not a public document…unless somebody could say I will read every Gazette to see if one day a Gazette will come here with an amnesty and we will go to court, unless they were there waiting and hoping that one day an amnesty would come in the Gazette. They could not have been so ready unless somebody in the government told them it was coming and they were ready to go to the court”.
“There are too many things that happened so well, all of which could only have been for the benefit of the persons who the government wanted to benefit from the action,” Rowley said.
Rowley said that during her broadcast on Thursday night, Prime Minister Persad Bissessar went out of her way to distance Attorney General Anand Ramlogan from the controversy, insisting that he was out of the island at the time.
“The responsibility for this scandal lies squarely in the office of the prime minister and at the feet of the attorney general and what we are now facing and what the world now sees is that there exist in Trinidad and Tobago today ..a cabinet in office that did all that I just described to bring about a particular outcome and the particular outcome was the stopping of a preliminary inquiry into the conduct of people who are friends and associates of the government…”.
Rowley admitted that while parliament had given approval to the legislation, both the Opposition and the Independent legislators had done so on the basis of assurances from the government that the law would not be proclaimed unless there were certain measures put into place that would have had the effect of negating the release of the two party financiers.
“The government is guilty of facilitating criminal wrongdoing in Trinidad and Tobago,” Rowley said reiterating the call for the resignation of the entire government.