Balgobin Maharaj Threatens Legal Action On Exemption Order

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By Sue-Ann Wayow

A PRE-ACTION protocol letter has been issued on behalf of activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj who is questioning the legality of an Order of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property (Amendment) Act concerning foreign dignitaries.

Maharaj is contending that there was an obvious and clear drafting error in the 2020 Act, the main problem being with the word “negative”.

He is again being represented by Freedom Law Chambers headed by Anand Ramlogan, SC.

A pre-action letter signed by attorney Vishaal Siewsaran dated on Monday has named Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC,  as the proposed defendant and Minister of Finance Colm Imbert as the proposed interested party in an interpretation claim to determine whether Legal Notice No. 206 of 2023 is unlawful, null and void, and of no legal effect.

The issue is Clause 5 of the amended Bill which states, “This Act shall not apply to the following services provided to public bodies or State-controlled enterprises—(a)legal services; (b)financial services; (c)accounting and auditing services; (d)medical services; or (e)such other services as the Minister may, by Order, determine. 

(6) An Order under subsection (5) shall be subject to negative resolution of Parliament.”

The letter states, “It was argued that it should be amended to “affirmative” instead of “negative”, as this would mean that any future addition of exempt services must be debated in the Parliament before it becomes law.

“What was sub-section (6) to “An Order under subsection (5) shall be subject to affirmative resolution of Parliament” ought to have been consequentially amended to refer to sub-section (6) instead of sub-section (5). This was not done. Notwithstanding that, the Parliament and the Minister obviously intended for it to be done.”

The signing of a three-month order on June 29 by Imbert stated, “The Act does not apply to the provision of services for events associated with visits by Foreign Heads of State, Foreign Heads of Government or Foreign Dignitaries to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.”

The letter states, “The Honourable Minister has therefore taken advantage of this obvious and clear drafting error and has operated in a manner diametrically opposed to the ethos and tenor of the legislation and the intention of Parliament.”

Maharaj through his attorneys asked for a response by 4 pm on July 17.

“Failing which, we have been instructed to file, as a matter fit for urgent hearing, our client’s interpretation claim in the High Court of Justice. We therefore call upon you to immediately advise us of any change of your position in this matter,” the letter states.

On Sunday, Opposition Member of Parliament Saddam Hosein raised the issue at a press briefing stating that the order was illegal as it was not given Parliamentary approval.

On Tuesday morning, Imbert held a press conference to address the statements made by Hosein and in a subsequent press conference on Tuesday afternoon Hosein said, Imbert said nothing of substance.

“What Minister Imbert attempted to do today was blame the Cabinet and in particular, the Attorney General. He exposed the incompetence of the Attorney General because he himself admitted that he would have taken advice from Senator Armour with respect to signing this particular Order in relation to CARICOM,” he said.

Hosein said Imbert himself was hiding under the bus but he was the most senior Cabinet minister and could not really expect citizens to believe that Imbert did not understand what affirmative resolution of Parliament means.

Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein. Photo: T&T Parliament

Furthermore, he said back in May, Parliament, in its mid-year review approved an additional $20 million to be allocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the hosting of conferences and events including the 45th meeting of CARICOM Heads of State and the 50th anniversary celebrations.

Hosein said, “Minister Imbert cannot come now and say that this was any overnight meeting. These meetings were already planned way in advanced.”


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