Daly Bread: A rationale for accountability; our governments persistently fail to “level with us”

All of last week there was intense focus on whether, in the words of one editorial writer, the Attorney General “told an untruth in a sworn affidavit in the Miami court”. All three daily newspapers in the course of the week contained editorials severely critical of the Attorney General (the AG).

Although I made a comment on the Miami affidavit situation last week, I refer to it again and I will also raise an incident in a recently concluded case at the Privy Council in which the Appellant was the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago.

Photo: Reginald Armour SC (left) is sworn in as attorney general by President Paula-Mae Weekes on 17 March 2022.
(Copyright Office of the President)

These occasions remind us of the persistent failures of all our governments to level with us. They are incapable of understanding that most of the truth will come out because, for all its faults, our media are vigilant and our Courts fulfil their judicial review responsibilities—albeit too slowly at times.

Before he assumed the office of AG, Reginald Armour SC, represented two of the accused in the Piarco Airport corruption case. The revelation of this representation prompted the Miami Court to disqualify Armour from representing Trinidad and Tobago in the proceedings. It also disqualified the law firm retained by the State in the matter.

Public concern is focused on the Attorney General’s statement, in his now controversial affidavit, that his role in representing the two accused was that of a junior lawyer—“limited to minimal legal research and to taking notes in the early years of the preliminary enquiry to assist my leader Allan Alexander SC”.  

Photo: Then Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) president Reginald Armour SC talks at the Transparency Institute anti-corruption conference on 8 March 2016.
(Copyright Shaun Rambaran/ forge.co.tt)

This public concern grew out of information in the public domain which has remained unrefuted and which suggests that the Attorney General subsequently functioned as a Senior Counsel in his representation of his clients.

In my earlier comment I set out a rationale why the Attorney General cannot properly remain silent in response to public concern. As a platform to move on to other things, I restate that rationale as follows: 

“In my view, silence is not an option when a Cabinet member’s acts or omissions in discharge of his public functions are ones which require accountability to the public.  

“Political accountability and institutional trust in the office of Attorney General and the Government as a whole is at risk and cannot be subordinated to the Attorney General’s choice of silence. That is gravely detrimental to the public interest.”

Photo: Minister of Youth Development and National Service Foster Cummings.
(Copyright Ministry of Works and Transport)

One of the things—other than the Attorney General’s current deficit—that reeks of a need for accountability, are the matters so effectively raised by Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial concerning Minister Foster Cummings.  

His bluster and bluff, including an hopeless application for a prior restraint injunction in a defamation case against Senator Lutchmedial has not provided clarity about “family” and corporate veil dealings.

Two days before delivery of the decision rejecting the injunction application of Minister Cummings, there was a report in the Newsday, on 9 June 2022—by the experienced Court reporter, Jada Loutoo—that an English QC, who was representing the State in the Privy Council in the case about the availability of bail in murder cases, had said that our Parliament did not trust the Judiciary.  

This incident came up for explanation in Parliament last week. The Attorney General said that he was informed that the QC had been “misquoted” and represented that the matter had been cleared up.

Photo: Attorney General Reginald Armour.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2022)

However, the troubling statement was not cleared up on the basis of “misquotation”. 

After verbal fencing by the QC on the afternoon of the second day of the case, two of the judges had to press for clarity of what was meant by Counsel’s remarks. Only then was it unequivocally placed on the record by acceptance of the phrasing of the Presiding Judge that “the case was not being made on behalf of the Attorney General for Trinidad and Tobago that the Judiciary cannot be trusted”.

From the relevant exchanges in the Privy Council, it appears to me that, Jada Loutoo, the Newsday reporter, as well as Rickie Ramdass in the Trinidad Express, did their jobs well by reporting the QC’s questionable statement.  

The accuracy of their work ought not be diminished in Parliament.

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