Kamla: PM needs to call local elections now following Privy Council landmark ruling

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Kamla: PM needs to call local elections now following Privy Council landmark ruling

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is demanding that government call the Local Government Elections now.

Her call follows the Privy Council’s landmark judgment this morning, which upheld a legal challenge against Government’s extension of the term of incumbent local government representatives by a year.

She said the ruling against the “anti-democratic” actions of the Keith Rowley led PNM is a “red-letter day” in the political history of Trinidad and Tobago.

She said it is also a historic victory for the 54 nations of the Commonwealth governed by rule of law and representative democracy as it will now set a legal precedent.

Persad-Bissessar sent a message for the people of T&T: exercise your right to vote.

“To the public we say we have fought to give you the right to vote. Use it wisely to send a clear message to the Rowley PNM that enough is enough. We say to our citizens, DO NOT TOTE, VOTE!! Vote against the oppression and tyranny so that the darkness and depression engendered by the Rowley PNM can be dispelled,” she said as she noted the emphasis the law lords placed on the importance of the people’s right to vote.

Persad-Bissessar further called for the Government to disclose the legal fees paid to defend this “illegal action” in postponing the election saying the Opposition estimates it is to the tune of $2 million.

The former Prime Minister said the “boldface and shameless” attempt to postpone local government elections for one year was nothing more than a “vulgar and outrageous” abuse of power.

The Government, she said, must name the date to give the people the right to vote and to choose their local government representatives.

The Privy Council ruling is a victory for our Constitution, the people, the rule of law and our democracy, she said.

“It is a victory for the people who the PNM tried to prevent from exercising their right to vote. At the heart of this case was the denial of the sacred right to vote. Whilst we lost this matter in the High Court and Court of Appeal, we are happy that we have been vindicated by the highest court in the land in a stunning pronouncement against the legislative sleight of hand that threatened our democratic traditions and values,” said Persad-Bissessar.

She noted that when Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi announced the postponement of the elections, the Opposition, immediately protested and objected because it was a clear violation of democratic values.

“They dismissed our concerns and attacked us for daring to challenge them. Today, Dr Rowey and Al Rawi are trying to back pedal so fast from their previous bombastic and arrogant statements about the lawfulness of their action in postponing the elections that they have fallen off the political cliff,” she said.

The Opposition, she noted, weathered the “vicious attacks” by the PNM but were always confident about the strength of its case.

Rowley, she said, must obey the judgement of the Privy Council and fix the date for the local government elections.

“You can run from the people but you cannot hide. You have tried to deny people the right to vote the PNM out but you have failed. Local Government is in shambles because the Rowley PNM has starved municipal corporations of funding so that they cannot properly serve the people on the ground,” she said.

“While they continue to spew their glib political rhetoric about local government reform, people are forced to drive on roads that resemble an obstacle course – dodging potholes every ten seconds,” she added.

Persad-Bissessar said people are subjected to poor healthcare at the hospitals with limited beds and medicine in the pharmacy.

She said the people are also suffering from the astronomical food prices and cost of living increases.

“People are drowning in the blood from the tsunami of bloody and violent crime as innocent people and children are slaughtered and gunned down on a daily basis and our youth are frustrated and disillusioned because they cannot get jobs regardless of their qualifications and ability,” she added.

Persad-Bissessar noted that last week Energy Minister Stuart Young launched a “scandalous” attack against Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj who brought this claim.

She said Young tried to defend the ridiculous $1.2 billion dollars in legal fees for PNM’s legal friends and family by “pouring scorn” on Balgobin-Maharaj quest for justice.

She noted Young said the government was obligated to defend such matters and hence would incur legal fees in so doing.

“Today we say to Stuart Young and the government: the UNC will fight to protect the constitutional right of access to justice which every single citizen enjoys under the constitution. Stuart Young must eat his words and apologize to Ravi Balgobin Maharaj for his cowardly and scandalous attack against him in the parliament,” charged Persad-Bissessar.

Trying to justify $1.2 Billion in legal fees by criticizing citizens for challenging the government begs the question “why is the government acting illegally and then spending millions to defend the indefensible?” she said.

Persad-Bissessar noted that when the government won this matter in the local courts, Attorney General Reginald

Armour was quick to put out press releases declaring that the courts have validated the actions of the government.

“Today, he is strangely silent. Perhaps he is still busy looking for the famous missing file. He is also a blot on our nations proud and cherished democracy as he failed to give the government proper legal advice to prevent this travesty of justice. Shame, shame shame!!” she fired.

Persad-Bissessar pointed out that the State’s legal team was led by Douglas Mendes SC whom she noted is one of the many multi-million-dollar recipients of legal briefs from the PNM.

Persad-Bissessar said that the AG had disclosed that it was Mendes, the Law Association member whom he spoke to with respect to the appointment of Senior counsels.

“This is the same Mendes, who was recently forced to withdraw from the case brought by Vincent Nelson where Nelson is suing the State for over $40 million dollars for a breach of the sweetheart indemnity agreement, he was given by Faris Al-Rawi. Both Mendes and Rowley’s golfing partner Gilbert Peterson SC had to withdraw from that case when it was revealed that they were the ones who were all along advising Al-Rawi on the said indemnity agreement,” she said.

Persad-Bissessar added that attorney Rishi Dass who was junior counsel in this Local Government case was also the recipient of multi-million dollar briefs from the PNM and was recently appointed Senior Counsel.

Persad-Bissessar extended congratulations to the legal team led by Ramlogan and his juniors Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial and Vishal Siewsaran.