The elder’s gesture: Daly tackles State’s exorbitant legal fees and POS wrecking

EPL Infrafred Sauna

Owing to my commitment to take part in Raoul Pantin’s play Hatuey I was unable to write a column last Sunday. I was therefore unable to make timely comment on the contentious Budget debate and the feeding trough for favoured lawyers exposed in the course of that debate.

Photo: Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
Photo: Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.

Happily the distinguished Terrence Farrell provided a column, which made the important distinction between justifiable investigation and so-called witch hunts.

In my view, a new Government ought not to be criticised for exposing apparently extravagant spending by a predecessor Government.  Accordingly the robust language of the Minister of Finance in opening the Budget debate ought not to attract the same condemnation as the “stink mouth” incident and the remarks that provoked it or the “Princess” incident.

Those two incidents remind us of the shameful Vernella tirade.

Even in the Senate there have been unseemly verbal bouts. It would be useful for Parliamentarians, including all members of the new Government, to take the word of several commentators that coarse behaviour and antics in the Budget debate have left the public disappointed with the new Parliament and diminished the feeling that some good might come out of political change.

By contrast, following the dire inadequacy of the Budget statement regarding culture, the arts and culture community was somewhat encouraged by the Minister of Culture’s contribution to the debate.

I refer to her reported statement that “a strong policy” for grants and funding was to be developed at the Ministry to increase transparency, accountability and fair play.

Photo: Culture Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly. (Courtesy Elections.TT)
Photo: Culture Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly.
(Courtesy Elections.TT)

I did have an opportunity to comment last Sunday on the bonanza for favoured lawyers, based on questions from a Trinidad Express journalist.

I recommended that the Solicitor General be re-empowered to retain external counsel to act for the State, as had been the practice before Attorneys General from both major political parties respectively, grabbed that function leading to politically inspired preferences and latterly to huge abuses of the public purse.

The following past practices also ought to be re-established: The assignment of attorneys employed in the offices of the Solicitor General and Chief State solicitor to work with external Counsel when the Solicitor General retains external Counsel, as opposed to briefing out all the functions in the case.

The use of external Counsel should usually be limited to Queen’s or Senior Counsel.

There is also no reason why the State should not publish the fees it is generally prepared to pay when external Counsel are retained subject to any carefully negotiated uplift in cases of unusual complexity.

Photo: Former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan.
Photo: Former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan.

In my last column I described some of my Hatuey experience. Since then, on my way to a performance, I had an exchange on the pavement outside the Central Bank Auditorium with an operative on board the notorious wrecker.

This compels me to return to the wrecking operation, which is a constant source of grief to citizens, not because illegal parking should be condoned, but because wrecker operations are frequently arbitrary and irrational.

As the incident I am about to relate demonstrates, a key requirement of the motor vehicle and road traffic legislation is frequently ignored.  Towing a vehicle is authorised if the driver or other person in control or in charge of the vehicle cannot be found or refuses to remove the vehicle.

I was already out of my vehicle, which a helper was driving, on my way toward the auditorium, but the wrecker nevertheless bore down on my vehicle.

As mentioned before, Park Street, a main thoroughfare, is clogged every day between Richmond and Charlotte Streets as a result of illegal parking but the wrecker does not deal with that continuous problem.

The wrecker seems to prefer easier and more quickly profitable targets. We do not know how the profits are distributed.

Photo: Mind if I park there?
Photo: Mind if I park there?

Is the wrecker operated less with focus on illegal parking on streets like Park Street that seriously impedes the free flow of traffic and more on quick money to be made in areas less relevant to our traffic problems?

Who gets the fees drivers pay to obtain release from the wrecking compound?

With these issues not far from my mind I found that my feelings toward the oppressive and irrational conduct of the wrecker on that day were best expressed by gesture.

The official on board the wrecker felt it necessary to drive up and reprimand me for the gesture and to note that it came from “an elder.”  I answered with an invitation to discuss the oppression of the wrecker.

Not surprisingly, the invitation was ignored.

I am not aware that elders must be acquiescent, particularly in the abuse of coercive powers. To the contrary, many more elders need to speak out against oppressive behaviour, as I do in these columns.

Photo: Up yours.
Photo: Up yours.

So-called civil society in our country is often more inert and prone to seek status than it is critical.

A greater level of engagement might restrain parliamentarians and wreckers, as well as other purveyors of unfair, arbitrary and unaccountable behaviour.

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About Martin Daly

Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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  1. I suppose the immediate justice of having to pay for your car doesn’t create more strain on courts. Or else you might need a traffic court.
    Thing is this business is clearly about squeezing money from motorists and nothing else. It is not about a public service or courtesy at all.

  2. I do agree on the wrecker bit and I remember having that talk before with Kendall Tull.
    They are supposed to be providing a service. Not snatching cars for cash like some sort of shakedown.
    They are supposed to actually enquire if the driver is nearby. By law.
    Instead, they look for an opportunity and pounce like thieves in the night.
    I never considered if they picked certain areas and why though.
    I always remembered getting wrecked at after 5 on a clear evening during school vacation on the avenue. There was no sign post in that area and I didn’t know the rule there according to day and time.
    But the street was clear and there was no traffic. Yet I had to pay $500 or whatever. Steups.

  3. I like that feature pic of Daly. Apt.

  4. Some sensible advice on way forward for external counsel. Was waiting to hear his thoughts on this. As for random wrecking and the elderly, I know of an incident where someone took a disabled mother to the canadian embassy which provides no parking nor is there a public carpark close by so she parked on the street only to come out to not find her vehicle, leaving disabled mother to try to find where they keep wrecked vehicles on suggestion of a passerby; hassle as place does not accept card but cash..
    And can we get confirmation that these wreckers are privately owned with the gov’t paid part and wrecker part of fees paid? I mean, it clearly would not be feasible for the government to purchase wreckers and collect all revenue, if this is the case. Or better still, give tickets to all illegally parked vehicles hence generating more income. And no one seems to care that we giving out approvals for businesses all over with no parking, and provide no public or inadequate car park. So are customers being set up? We so backward that we can’t put up parking meters? Let’s start being creative with realistic solutions for all our users of the city please.

  5. Martin, I can’t imagine you being provoked to the point of giving anyone the finger. What’s next? Jack Warner telling a foreign correspondent to arkse yuh mudder?

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