Home / View Point / Letters to the Editor / Chambers of Commerce criticise ‘invasive’ Unexplained Wealth Bill, urge Govt to hold consultations

Chambers of Commerce criticise ‘invasive’ Unexplained Wealth Bill, urge Govt to hold consultations

“The very invasive legislation seeks to investigate property owners, business persons and others with accumulated wealth as to the means in which they are acquired…

“The Joint Chambers do acknowledge the present administration’s drive for transparency within the private economic forces that service our nation. We would also hope our lawmakers and representatives are willing to be as open with their public and private dealings in the same fervent attitude.”

In the following Letter to the Editor, the Couva/Point Lisas, Tunapuna and Sangre Grande Chambers of Commerce call on the Government to halt the proposed Civil Asset Recovery and Management and Unexplained Wealth Bill until ‘proper consultations’ are conducted:

Photo: Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.

The executives of the Couva/Point Lisas, Tunapuna and Sangre Grande Chambers of Commerce, have noted with some alarm the speed at which the Government has brought the Civil Asset Recovery and Management and Unexplained Wealth Bill to Parliament.

The very invasive legislation seeks to investigate property owners, business persons and others with accumulated wealth as to the means in which they are acquired. Part of the bill also includes the formation of yet another government agency, controlling civil asset and management recovery.

The Joint Chambers do acknowledge the present administration’s drive for transparency within the private economic forces that service our nation. We would also hope our lawmakers and representatives are willing to be as open with their public and private dealings in the same fervent attitude.

President of the Couva Chamber, Ramchan Rajbal Maraj, has asked the Government to halt on any pursuance of the Bill until proper consultations are conducted. Maraj has further questioned the impact of the Bill on the rights of citizens.

Adding further to the consultation call, Head of the Sangre Grande Chamber, Ricardo Mohammed, wants to see the bill before a Joint Select Committee meeting to ensure it serves its purpose for the people of this nation. He noted a number of bills that appear before the Houses of Parliament, often appear to be rushed and mistakes are made. Mohammed further stated many of the Bills have to be amended as well.

Photo: Bribery has long plagued Trinidad and Tobago’s public sector.
(Copyright Canadian Business)

The Tunapuna Chamber is pleased to champion the beliefs of its fellow Chambers. Only recently, this Government declared we were out of a recession period; but the growth is based on oil and gas.

However, Chamber President Surindra Maharaj says on the ground level—in the purses and wallets of the common citizen—the economy is still struggling. And the sneak attack of this Bill, according to Maharaj, will only feed the growing alarm and fear within the business community.

These three Chambers—as part of the Confederation of Regional Chambers of Commerce, who represent the hundreds of business operators in our care—pledge our unwavering support to ensure our economy is strong, vibrant and available to all.

Our full executive boards are also willing to meet with government representatives to further clarify the extensive applications of this Bill.

We also call on the government—in the same vein we must honour your words that you at least listen to ours—and the thousands of families across the country that we must account to.

We remain, as always, in the service of Trinidad and Tobago.

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89 comments

  1. …or maybe….some are complaining because they just want to see legislation that is fair and just

  2. All those complaining have Cocoa in the sun!

  3. But I thought there was already a body in place to deal with these matters. Aren’t banks etc supposed to report suspicious dealings? ??

    • Debbie Espinal when everyone continues to operate in silos with no coordination, this is what happens.
      Why hasn’t the tax laws been strengthened?
      When are they going to bring in the many citizens who so not file taxes-doubles vebdors, maxi and taxi drivers, online stores?
      And who do not keep formal books.
      Or the public servants who apparently can become millionaires with overtime?
      Shouldn’t these have beeb done prior? Or was the state waiting like vultures?

  4. MEDIA RELEASE

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 7, 2019

    FACT SHEET ON THE CIVIL ASSET RECOVERY AND MANAGEMENT UNEXPLAINED WEALTH BILL

    WHY IS THIS BILL IMPORTANT?

    1. It targets persons who find creative ways to hide the profit of crime

    2. Civil asset recovery has been used as a mechanism to address organised crime in other countries

    3. It has borne fruit in countries such as neighbouring St Vincent and Grenadines

    4. It deals with the recovery of wealth accrued by criminals

    WHO WILL MANAGE THE OPERATION OF THIS LAW?

    1. A Civil Asset Recovery Agency will be established to receive the assets

    2. The agency will be managed under trusteeship provisions and is the entity that the DPP can ask to receive an investigation. It is the agency that approaches the court.

    3. The agency will comprise of three trustees: the Civil Asset Trustee and two Deputies. The Civil Asset Trustee and one of the Deputies must be attorneys-at-law appointed by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission

    4. The third person will be appointed following agreement by the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader

    5. If the PM and Opposition cannot agree on someone, the President will appoint someone

    6. The agency will be insulated from political interference and will have independent agents who from a protection standpoint will be ranked the same as a High Court judge, in order to shield them from ministerial and other interventions

    7. The trustee will be immune from criminal and civil suit and liability

    HOW ARE CITIZENS RIGHTS PROTECTED?

    1. It is the Civil Asset Recovery Agency that goes to court with an order

    2. Assets are not automatically forfeited

    3. There can be no forfeiture unless the court give an instruction

    4. No asset forfeiture can be recommended until the DPP tells the Civil Asset Recovery Agency to approach the court

    5. Anyone with an interest in the property which is the subject of a forfeiture has the right to approach the court

    6. A police officer who is responsible for financial investigations may apply to the court asking for a preliminary unexplained wealth order

    7. The owner of the property in question has ample opportunity to explain their wealth

    WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO NOTE?

    1. There has been two and half years of public consultations on this Bill.

    2. The law does not require a special majority because it does not infringe any of the 3/5 rights. It is a simple majority piece of law and is recognised as due process within the constitutional parameters.

    3. The law will apply to offences that existed prior to the law because the crime may be of a continuing nature

    4. There will be a Committee of the Whole of the House to examine the bill in full detail.

    For more information check the following link: http://www.ttparliament.org/legislations/b2019h06.pdf

    • What is missing is proof of a crime. This legislation as currently written attempts to circumvent the criminal justice system by putting the burden of proof on the person not the state. If the state believes that the genesis of any citizens wealth is from a corrupt place then it should cause criminal charges to be brought. To those who say they have nothing to hide consider that a police officer on suspicion that you have an illgotten second hand car can cause you to have to retain a lawyer and go to to court to prove that you got a loan…. the assertion that it works elsewhere is always curious because in other jurisdictions it does not take 15 years for a case to meander its way through the magistrates court. And thats really the point. Because while you are up and down proving that you legitimately bought your used car for the next X years your property will be held. This legisltation would be great in a place where equity fairness and reasonableness exists. I humbly submit that we are not such a place ….

      • People don’t seem to realise that one doesn’t have to worry about abuse of the law as much as the ‘potential’ to abuse the law. I cannot think of a single occasion where an abused law has been overturned without expensive litigation to prove it is unfair.

        What this means is that the potential for abuse is almost always discovered and acted upon, despite assurances of the Government passing such legislation. It is only when the abuse is deep-seated and affects someone with substantial assets – substantial enough to fund legal action – that judicial review may take place.

        The writer above makes a very valid point. In any legal jurisdiction where the judicial process is short, the potential for abuse would be lowered. In Trinidad and Tobago, not so. Having read the legislation, I see potential for abuse. It is written deliberately wide and will encompass hitherto unforeseen circumstances/property et cetera.

        It reminds me, on one hand, of the Nuremberg laws…

      • People don’t seem to realise that one doesn’t have to worry about abuse of the law as much as the ‘potential’ to abuse the law. I cannot think of a single occasion where an abused law has been overturned without expensive litigation to prove it is unfair.

        What this means is that the potential for abuse is almost always discovered and acted upon, despite assurances of the Government passing such legislation. It is only when the abuse is deep-seated and affects someone with substantial assets – substantial enough to fund legal action – that judicial review may take place.

        The writer above makes a very valid point. In any legal jurisdiction where the judicial process is short, the potential for abuse would be lowered. In Trinidad and Tobago, not so. Having read the legislation, I see the potential for abuse. It is written deliberately wide and will encompass hitherto unforeseen circumstances/property et cetera.

        It reminds me, on one hand, of the Nuremberg laws…

    • How did any of the mentioned items protect citizens rights???

      One’s right is not protected if you have to find tend of thousands of dollars to get a lawyer to approach the court on your behalf! Also the time and effort required to fight the State whose agents have no personal financial culpability in the matter!

    • Wendell Raeburn from the media release posted earlier – it stated assets are not automatically seized and forfeiture can be done only when the court orders.
      Maybe I read it incorrectly? So ur assets (car) is not automatically seized.

    • They’re not interested in facts. The leave things as they are lobby is strong. As yuhself why?

    • Dawn Foderingham please read the act. Secondly you have to get an attorney and go to court to prove that your car has NOT been obtained by use of illgotten gains. Now remember you have never been convicted of any crime and in this scenario the DPP has acknowledged that on the basis of the evidence he cannot secure a criminal conviction. So despite the fact that no crininal charges can be brought against you your assets have been taken. Its worse because they can take your kids parents and grandparents assets on the suspicion not proof of illgotten gains…let me say again suspicion….

    • Wendell Raeburn In T&T time limits that assets can be frozen etc would definitely be required. Would people always require a lawyer or a court process? If government can’t allocate more staff to improve efficiency of the legal system now how will they manage the logistics of this?

    • Jo Ann point taken…for the record im not against the government. But this is overreach in circumstances where the system does not work. And yes you will need a lawyer … at your cost meanwhile you have no car….

    • Wendell Raeburn Yes I’m not against it in principle either but I agree T&T systems aren’t coordinated or resourced well enough to prevent chaos. Would be a bonanza for the legal profession. Note to self – Always get a receipt and even take a photo of it.

    • This is all a big joke and charade if you ask me…looks like an effort to be seen to be doing something…while in reality foisting more stress on the average citizens….I repeat the drug lords and crime lords are KNOWN to the Police, Politicians and Public….yet many continue to get Government contracts and can easily explain their “wealth” accordingly….so who is this legislation really targeting?

    • We have a legal system that takes YEARS before most matters come up to be tried/heard…..what happens to someone who on SUSPICION has their assets or that of their family frozen?….And Lasana Liburd….where did that “fact sheet” come from? What or who was the source?

    • Malcolm Kurt Marquez it is from the Ministry of Communications. Let me make that clearer.

    • Sara Shah-Monroe ….I think your response displays very narrow thinking….the MINISTRY Of COMMUNCIATIONS posts something that it calls “FACTS” on a piece of legislation that the Government (that it is a part of) wants to try to rush through…..WITHOUT PUBLIC CONSULTATION…..and you take that as the absolute truth?

    • What does it hurt this Government to delay this bill A BIT and allow further debate and public consultation? I urge you to listen to what Dr. Browne posted….it might be a comedic opinion piece but there is some facts and testimony in there…..also go see what organizations like the ACLU (Civil Liberties) have to say about similar laws in the US

    • Malcolm Kurt Marquez this Bill is nothing like the US version. Please read guys. Also, Mariano Browne of “support the corrupt Calder Hart” fame? I really do not consider him an authority on these issues.

    • We will all see what it is and how it is applied now. Let’s take notice.

  5. These same voices were all joyfully singing when the Anti Gang Legislation was passed. It’s like never learn in their quest to conform without historical context.

    Note, not one word referencing BIG FISH or the 1%. The usual focus on ‘gang members with gold chains’. Thus limiting the perception of what a ‘gang’ is.

  6. Mr. Cudjoe, if in pursuit of crime you are willing to allow your constitutional rights to be legislated away, that’s you. I have a funny feeling though, based on our history, that if this legislation is passed crime will not be impacted as no major offender will ever be prosecuted aka “big fish”

  7. Well everybody say d talk of stamping out corruption was election talk.Now dey trying to do something allyuh against it

  8. How can you comment if you have not read it?….and Christophe….I could not agree more…..but sadly this is UNlikely to happen….and even if it does it will be those in power using it against those in Opposition

    • Malcolm Kurt Marquez Everybody is in opposition some time so it will cover them all then.

    • Malcolm Kurt Marquez i agree fully!

      I believe, as with the property tax, this is new and necessary legislation! My issue in both counts is “change management”. Basic change management communication – why is it necessary, what will be done and how it will be done. People are pausing and questioning because those questions might not have been properly answered for them, it may not be that they oppose or don’t support.

    • I have read the bill. I am completely unconfortable with its premise and proposed operation. In theory it is a work around the criminal justice system taking action even though you cannot find a the person criminally guilty. Its threshold of a balance of probabilities is worrying in a country where scandal without fact is the order of the day. I recognise that it is law in other jurisdictions that does not in my considered view make it right. In my view the civil action should take place after a criminal conviction. Not before during or after. He who alleges must prove …

    • Wendell thanks for that. I have not yet read it. I am concerned that the communication and articulation of the why, what, how never happened. Doing it in the house only is not enough. We John Public need to have a grasp or we shooting fish in a barrel. I also agree that there must be a legal process that makes a case. Bird to think you seize based on opinion and in tt, on rumor

    • I think we are all on the same page…the legislation in its present form seems to allow for one’s assets to be frozen on MERE SUSPICION…..add to that it seems even if you are NOT criminally liable your assets could be frozen or seized…..the Public procurement and so many other IMPORTANT bills have been languishing FOR YEARS…..why the need to push this bill through so quickly? Why the need to avoid public consultations on it as is being requested?

    • Malcolm for some reason we not seeing the need for public discussion. Why ?

    • I don’t know…..on a matter like this one certainly would have expected public consultation…..something here is NOT right

  9. I wonder if many of the naysayers have read the bill. If they haven’t, then I’m concerned about them. I agree in principle and until I’ve read the bill I’ll say no more except to say that far too many citizens have “overnight success” and didn’t win the Lotto.

  10. Start with politicians and their close friends and family…

  11. Quite frankly, I cannot wait for a lawful, effective arrangement for ‘disgorgement’ because that is what we need here in this country…I have not yet read this new law and digested its contents, but will be doing so…

    • First reasonable response…

    • Afra Raymond I would be justifiably wary about any legislation.
      No matter how good the law could be, being timely, and enforcement, is the challenge.
      I recall in the not too distant past things like anti gang legislation, Facta etc.
      I would think it would have made sense to get persons into the tax system who currently are not, first.
      Bring taxes up to date.
      Just waiting for backlash like property tax.

  12. Hmm makes you wonder if they are honest money earners , why they are so agaisnt said bill .

  13. Anne Phillip…many of us are NOT okay with this….but people need to speak out…I agree with the Chamber…more public consultation is needed….

  14. pots calling kettles black!

  15. As far as I understand from the debate yesterday, forfeiture of property is based on SUSPICION only !! No evidence required !!! The matter goes to court and the burden of proof is on the owner. Meanwhile this is civil court matter eh, (which could take years) and all expenses incurred by seizure, like storage of assets, etc would be borne by the owner…. even if he is innocent. From the comments above seems like we ok with this…smdh…I remember when the law was for the innocent

  16. Beware lest both sides are complicit in seeking a delay

  17. So they cannot explain how they making their money? Is not hard work and sacrifice?

  18. When you have cocoa in the sun every cloud looks like rain.

  19. Gold chain wearing men eh?? Though they talk about the value of this bill lies in curbing white collar crime, where does the profile point? Maybe the article is just poorly written?

  20. 57 years is way too soon. It have countries 10 times older than TnT who still waiting fuh transparency… wha”iz de rush?

  21. This has yet to begin and the rats are scampering…

  22. They have cocoa in the sun. Trinidad companies name in Panama papers

  23. Look at speed people running with the moment they see this Bill.

  24. Happening too quickly, they say. Need time. For what exactly? To hide the spoils?

  25. A step toward transparency and the end of a culture of corruption. Staff at all levels of government should be included from the outset.