UNC: Probe whether agencies enacted CoE recommendations

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Jayanti Lutchmedial-Ramdial –

OPPOSITION Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial-Ramdial on Monday urged that a body such as a parliamentary committee be set up to interview state agencies over which recommendations by past commissions of enquiry (such as the Uff Report) they have actually implemented.

She was speaking in support of Independent Senator Anthony Vieira’s private motion urging an overhaul of the Commissions of Enquiry Act to create a more effective/efficient public inquiry process.

The Senate later approved the motion, with no audible dissent.

Lutchmedial-Ramdial also said there were many non-legislative steps that could be taken to create more accountability in state bodies, such as increasing the fine for non-appearance of witnesses at a commission of inquiry.

She mulled the concerns voiced by other senators about the existing commission of enquiry (CoE) process. These included the non-attendance of witnesses, cost, calls to set up a permanent secretariat to serve CoEs, High Court powers of a CoE, and the subsequent implementation of a CoE’s recommendations.

Lutchmedial-Ramdial said while people might suggest new laws, sometimes a problem may be one of implementation.

“Some things you simply can’t legislate for, for example to improve efficiency and effectiveness.”

She challenged a senator’s earlier claim that the CoE into the 1990 coup attempt had been unable to compel attendance by Jamaat al Muslimeen head Yasin Abu Bakr, as she said legal proceedings had been under way against him, but the fine for non-attendance was just $2,000.

“A good place to start might be to increase the penalties.”

Lutchmedial-Ramdial questioned calls for a permanent secretariat, saying this would be a costly move for CoEs, which were only held from time to time.

No one could have predicted the Paria diving tragedy, she said.

She suggested the drafting of a set of basic procedural rules for CoEs rather than burdening each commission with doing this. Saying many CoEs include a criminal aspect, she suggested bringing the DPP into the process earlier. Saying some people say attorneys make much money from participating in CoEs, she quoted the Prime Minister citing the Clico CoE as having “findings of a kleptocratic nature” involving a handful of privileged individuals.

“They do serve a purpose, a very important purpose,” Lutchmedial-Ramdial said of CoEs. “Can we say a commission of enquiry has no value?”

She said the main problem was not in an enquiry but in any subsequent follow-up. Public officials should have a timeline to follow up, she urged.

Lutchmedial-Ramdial suggested a body such as a parliamentary committee should be created to quiz public agencies such as the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) on the degree to which they had enacted the recommendations of CoEs such as those into the Las Alturas development and the Uff CoE. This step could lead the public to feel they got value for money spent on CoEs, she said.

Lutchmedial-Ramdial claimed the Trestrail housing development was built without proper geo-technical surveys and now needed public funds to repair.

Saying the Trestrail case echoed the circumstances around the Uff Report, she lamented that many old CoE reports were now collecting dust.

“We, as parliamentarians, should call these bodies to account.”

While lamenting a news cycle of 14 days or less, she said when new scandals arise, reference should be made to reports from the CoEs into the attempted coup, Las Alturas, Clico/HCU, and the Uff Report. Lutchmedial-Ramdial said CoEs serve a useful function – fact-finding and/or catharsis. She said no one has ever said the recommendations from the Uff, coup or Las Alturas CoEs were incapable of implementation.

Lutchmedial-Ramdial again appealed for for accountability by state bodies, by Parliament or a committee of Parliament, and supported the motion.