Browne: Commission of Enquiry Act reform this year

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The Commission of Enquiry into the Paria diving tragedy took place in 2023. The Government is now promising to reform the Commission of Enquiry Act. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

SENATE Leader Dr Amery Browne expects reform of the Commissions of Enquiry Act to take place this year, he said on March 26 in the debate on a private motion by Independent Senator Anthony Vieira, SC. The motion calls for a review of the act and an improvement in the efficiency of the public inquiry process.

Browne hailed Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, who spoke earlier and who was marking two years in office. Saying the AG was “measured and reasonable” and listened to submissions by others, Browne welcomed Armour’s promise to engage with senators on reform of the commission of enquiry (CoE) process.

Saying the process would involve the Law Reform Commission and Office of AG’s policy research arm, Browne hoped Vieira would share his thoughts and wisdom to influence the resulting policy proposals, which would then be sent to Cabinet. He said Armour had reckoned all this would happen this year.

Saying a policy recommendation could lead to new legislation, he said, “That is a signal for hope.”

Browne recalled several earlier speakers using the word “catharsis” concerning people’s hopes for CoEs.

Noting each CoE entails a lot of work and a lot of resources, Browne asked, “Did the candle cost more than the funeral? Was it worth it in the end? Has society been getting value?”

Citing Vieira’s description of CoEs as an important tool for social investing, he said the description was “a little bit heavy.”

Browne quoted a letter to the editor by one Philbert Gervais, who in 2022, called for “a commission of enquiry to probe all commissions of enquiry.”

He said the letter had asked about any recourse left after a CoE, whether taxpayers were getting value, and what were the outcomes of the CoEs.

Browne said Trinidad and Tobago has held dozens of CoEs since the 1960s.

“How much progress was made? Did we get value for money?”

He said his list of CoEs from 1960-2024 was seven pages long.

In the 1960s, he said, there were 16 CoEs, including into the cane farming industry and flooding of the Oropouche Lagoon.

Browne said the 26 CoEs in the 1970s included racial and colour discrimination in Trinidad and Tobago’s private sector, drug addiction, WASA, ferry acquisition, the baking industry, and the Licensing Department.

Other CoEs, he said, were into the La Tinta affair (involving a controversial police drug bust) in 1990, football in Trinidad and Tobago (1994), plus seven CoEs in the 2000s and three in the 2020s.