[UPDATED] UNC: Government attacking independent bodies

Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial-Ramdial. - Photo courtesy TT Parliament
Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial-Ramdial. - Photo courtesy TT Parliament

Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial-Ramdial has called on the government to stop its “blatant interference” and “relentless attacks” on independent bodies.

In a private motion in the Senate on April 23, she called on the Government to reaffirm its commitment to the principles and practice of democracy, including the idea of the separation of powers.

She said the current government was characterised by attempts to delay elections, criticisms and attacks against independent offices like the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Integrity Commission and buffing the media and private citizens when they voiced criticism or concern over particular matters.

She said it would go down in history for secret indemnity deals struck without the knowledge of the DPP, a merit list that went “missing” and a Police Service Commission that collapsed, attempts to interfere with the process of appointing the Commissioner of Police (CoP) and using its majority in Parliament to weaken watchdog institutions like the Office of the Procurement Regulator.

“It is the obligation of all right-thinking citizens to question these attempts. Because if we do not do that, these actions will erode the independence of our autonomous public offices and institutions.

“There will be a growing loss of confidence in our state institutions, and efficient functioning of our state institutions and public offices which seek to provide transparency and accountability on behalf of the citizens of TT will be no more.”

Giving examples, Lutchmedial-Ramdial said the government kept trying to exempt bodies from the Freedom of Information Act, insert the government into the process of appointing a CoP, remove parliamentary oversight for acting CoP appointments and more.

She said the Office of the DPP and other public service institutions were deprived of financial and technical resources but criticised for underperforming. She said the PM criticised the Integrity Commission, a body created to hold government officials to account, because it wanted additional funds to carry out its duties and because it was doing its duty when it investigated the PM.

“I raised this motion because it is something that we need to discuss. We need to look at our institutions. We need to look at the consistent and persistent attacks being thrown at our public officers. We need to look at the way that this government has decided to dismantle the public service and in so doing, to try to get as much control as they possibly can.

“We need to look at public perception. We need to look at how the office of the President even was dragged into disrepute by the actions of this government when it comes to the appointment of very important offices in this country.”

In her response, government senator Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal called the opposition senators hypocrites. She gave examples of various members “undermining democracy” and “attacking” a number of independent bodies and office-holders in and out of Parliament over the years.

The opposition bench loudly expressed its displeasure, interrupting her several times and, the Senate President was moved to call for a break in the proceedings because she used obscene language in reading a Facebook post from an opposition senator and allowing the opposition members to calm themselves.

The Senate President also interrupted her several times because she kept calling the Office of the President which was not allowed.

Sagramsingh-Sooklal went on to say the same motion was brought to the Senate on May 23, 2023 and asked Lutchmedial-Ramdial to withdraw the motion, as there was no merit to it.

“We cannot agree with this motion, Mr President, because the motion suggests that the government has not been committed to the principle of democracy and the principles of separation of power.”

She went on to defend the government against five accusations by Lutchmedial-Ramdial, including the government’s alleged attacks on the media, its attempts to frustrate access to the freedom of information, that the government diluted important legislation, that it weakened vital institutions and attacked the Office of the DPP.

On the issue of “weakening” legislation or reviewing it so a special majority was not necessary to make decisions she blamed the Opposition. She said the reason the government made the changes was because, very early on, the Opposition said it would not support any bill that required a special majority.

“We cannot wait sometimes, Mr President, just to get the support of the Opposition. So sometimes we have to review legislation with the intention of getting the support, or with the intention of passing those bills, to bring about the necessary changes that we want in our society.”

She also said the Government supported all independent offices, including the DPP, as, under the 2024 Public Sector Investment Programme, $16 million was allocated to provide safe and modern public buildings for the DPP's north office and $8.2 million was spent.

“We have not starved independent offices of resources, Mr President. What we have to do as a government, of course, is to work with the resources that we do have.”


"[UPDATED] UNC: Government attacking independent bodies"

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