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Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj

Constitutional laws prohibit the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago from making new laws when there are existing laws which can fix an issue.

Former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC shared his thoughts on the present THA impasse as he referenced Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s statement that Parliament will amend the Tobago House of Assembly’s Act to break the deadlock created because the 12 Assemblymen have not elected a presiding officer.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister and national council leader of the PNM, Dr Keith Rowley, said the Government would create an odd number of electoral districts in Tobago THA. He also said the amendment would address which officials can break a deadlock.

The THA impasse started soon after 12 Assemblymen – six Progressive Democratic Patriots(PDP) and six People’s National Movement(PNM) were inaugurated by President Paula-Mae Weekes on January 28, three days after the THA’s elections.

Speaking at a news conference yesterday, Maharaj said the THA’s Act Section 92 and House of Representatives Standing Order 4 addresses the issue.

He said they indicate that the Assembly’s clerk “shall” cast lots to determine which nominated presiding officer should not be chosen after rounds of voting by the Assemblymen. He said the regional corporation uses a similar procedure to elect aldermen if the election is a tie.

He said the word “shall” in law means the action is “mandatory.”

“If a clerk or public knowingly knows or should know what the law is and deliberately does not apply the law…there is a course of action called misfeasance in public office.”

He said the clerk could go to the Attorney General for advice and then seek protection under the law for her actions.

Maharaj said the Government must also obey the law.

“Constitutional laws principles prohibit a Parliament from enacting laws to fix a problem in respect of which there are existing laws to remedy that problem.”

He continued, “It is not open to the State or any public official to say that the existing law is not appropriate and it, therefore, requires a new law to break that deadlock.” He reminded that the elections took place under existing laws.

Maharaj said the impasse could also end if an agreement is reached between the two parties to share power.

The Assemblymen attempted to elect a presiding officer on January 28, February 1, and February 4. The PNM chose Ingrid Melville and the PDP- Julien Skeete. The PNM said it was willing to choose another nominee but has since withdrawn that option.

However, each time the voting ended in a tie as the Assemblymen voted along party lines.

The Assembly’s Clerk did not continue to vote, for an extended period, on each day and has suspended the meeting without indicating when the Assembly would reconvene.