Has the People's Lawyer lost his way?
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 18, 2021
When the Opposition gave notice last week that it intended to file a vote of no confidence in Faris Al-Rawi, it was another sequel in an ongoing battle to get rid of one of the most inefficient attorneys general our country has ever known.
After he filed the motion against Al-Rawi, San Juan/Barataria MP Saddam Hosein noted: "We have seen six consecutive years of legislative incompetence and legislative insanity. And now the icing on the cake is the particular 2021 Order... which attempted to change the law for the appointment of a Commissioner of Police," (Express, October 1)
Al-Rawi responded disdainfully to Hosein's motion, describing Hosein as "a little boy who embarrassed himself by calling for a polling division in the middle of a forest. If he can't figure out that they have the Main Ridge in Tobago which is a massive forest, how on earth do you expect to pick sense in a legal argument?"
The Prime Minister (PM) added that the attempts to oust Al-Rawi are "nothing more than an attempt to derail white-collar criminal investigations against certain members of the former People's Partnership administration... It is not by accident that the Opposition Leader is now like a dog with a rag, attacking the Attorney General and asking questions about what deal he made with Nelson." Nelson, he said, had "turned state witness to ‘extricate facts' as well as ‘date and time' so police ‘could put in handcuffs' members of the Cabinet of Kamla Persad-Bissessar for public money that has gone missing in their racket". (Express, October 10)
Anyone who steals from the State should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. However, it's a mistake to suggest that Al-Rawi is the only lawyer who could prosecute the Nelson case. The case is being conducted by the Office of the Attorney General rather than Al-Rawi who represents the office. If, God forbid, Al-Rawi dies tomorrow, the case will continue.
No matter how noble his cause or acerbic his rhetoric, Al-Rawi is unlikely to be successful in the Nelson matter. The agreement with Nelson, I am told, does not bind the State nor does it bind Nelson. All it does is expose the taxpayer to a claim to indemnity by Nelson if he suffers certain losses.
Another distinguished attorney noted that Al-Rawi "is a hindrance to the law because he does not understand the basic principles of the law". Harsh words, but it explains the disillusionment many people feel about his tenure. The same lawyer claims Al-Rawi agreed with a self-confessed criminal to be indemnified out of the State if he suffers any losses in the future. Two other lawyers have even questioned if the attorney general has the power to do so.
MP Hosein, it seems, was vindicated on Thursday when Justice Nadia Kangaloo declared that "the appointment of Mr Gary Griffith to act as Commissioner of Police from 18th August, 2021, is void and unconstitutional as being contrary to Section 123 of the Constitution". (Supreme Court judgment, October 10)
This means, I am told, the law that Al-Rawi drafted to appoint a Commissioner of Police has now been gutted by the court. He has lost again. In any responsible parliamentary system, he would have offered his resignation to the PM. However, it is difficult to envisage such a course of action since the PM seems committed strongly to keeping Al-Rawi as the AG.
Al-Rawi is not positioned to do what needs to be done for the country. About 47 times, over the past six years, he has recused himself from Cabinet discussions about matters that concerned his or his family's properties at Barataria, Port of Spain, St Clair, San Juan and Woodbrook. It is estimated that his family takes in about $23 million annually from these rental properties.
He also recused himself from the proceedings of the Inter-Agency Committee for the Evaluation of Interests for a Waste-to-Energy Facility at the Beetham Landfill Estate and a grant for a new Agricultural/Commercial/Industrial Lease in respect of a parcel of land situation at Orange Grove Estate.
My grandfather, my uncles, my brother, and I—to a small extent—worked our tails off on the Orange Grove Estate but have little to show for it. Pan boiler, cane cutters, cane-cart drivers, curers who separated the crystals from the molasses to produce the finest cane sugar in the world came away from their labour with broken bones, sore backs and rheumatoid arthritis.
However, a relative newcomer, a descendant of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad through his Iraqi father (or so it is claimed), is so tied up in the lands these peasants laboured upon for two centuries that he has to recuse himself from issues that are vital to the interest of the people he is supposed to serve.
Given his varied interests, Al-Rawi cannot truly represent the public interest. Nor, for that matter, can he be "the People's Lawyer". I do not discern in his performance that devotion to duty that was characteristic of some of our better AGs of the past.
Watching him operate, I can only think of Little Bo Peep who lost her sheep because she fell asleep on the job. She "dreamt she heard them bleating;/ But when she awoke, she found it a joke,/ For they were still all fleeting".
It's no joke. Trinbagonians are tired of Al-Rawi's bleating and poor performance. Does the PM have the conviction to relieve him of his duties and replace him with someone who understands the law and knows how to take care of our people's business?
Prof Cudjoe's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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