PM threatened with defamation lawsuit by president of Central Farmers’ Association

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PM threatened with defamation lawsuit by president of Central Farmers’ Association

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is being threatened with a lawsuit for defamation.

The threat has been made by Dhanraj Balkaran, president of the Central Farmers’ Association.

Balkaran’s lawyer Richard Jaggasar made the legal threat via a pre-action protocol letter sent to Rowley yesterday morning, accusing Dr Rowley of ridiculing Balkaran during an address at a People’s National Movement (PNM) political meeting in Arima in late May.

Dr Rowley made the comments as he sought to address a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Balkaran to Youth Development and National Service Minister Foster Cummings, for details of the ministry’s Youth Agriculture Homestead Programme.

In the letter, Jaggasar said his client would be seeking exemplary damages if successful in the lawsuit, as he was concerned that the alleged defamatory comments were made by the country’s highest elected office holder.

“Instead of commending his efforts to hold the nation’s office holders to account, the Prime Minister ridiculed and embarrassed him on a public platform in front of the country at large and referred to him as a land grabber, squatter and member of the United National Congress (UNC),” Jaggasar said, as he noted that his client contested the Felicity/Endeavour district in the last local government election as an independent candidate.

He claimed that the requested documents should have been in the public domain even without a FOIA request and suggested that such action by Government officials such as Dr Rowley would serve to undermine the intent of the legislation to increase transparency and accountability.

“This creates an environment in the public domain that as long as you are an independent thinker, or you do not blindly support the Government you are automatically aligned with the Opposition. That simply cannot be true in a free and democratic society,” Jaggasar said.

Balkaran is seeking compensation for damage to his reputation, as well as a declaration that he is entitled to a written apology.

Dr Rowley has 28 days in which to respond to the letter before the lawsuit is filed on Balkaran’s behalf.