The findings of an opinion poll conducted in early July by the North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA) revealed unanimous support for Senior Counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj’s opposition to the proposed amendments to the Freedom of Information ACT (FOIA) as tabled in parliament by the government a few weeks ago. Voters also called on Mr. Maharaj to come out of political retirement and help to rescue the country from what they describe as poor leadership from the government and the opposition.
Mr. Maharaj fervently opposes any changes to the public interest law that mandates government to provide information to the public upon a written request. Mr. Maharaj drafted the law as his signature contributions to judicial development in T&T. According to the law, government must provide requested information within thirty days or face legal actions and financial compensation. The proposed bill had sought to increase the time period up to ninety days in which government can make the information available.
It was Mr. Maharaj, the former Attorney General under the Basdeo Panday Administration, who drafted the bill (after months of public hearings) and oversaw its passage in parliament and assent by the President some twenty years ago making it the FOIA. If the government fails to provide requested information within thirty days, it could face court action and must pay attorney’s costs if it loses; the government lost all cases in refusing to provide information to the public.
Mr. Maharaj stoically opposes any amendment to the bill. And the country is unanimously behind him. Since Mr. Maharaj came out strongly against the amendment and threatened to engage in mass protests across the country, the government backed down and withdrew the bill. The population overwhelmingly supports Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley for withdrawing the amendment bill raising his political stocks for paying attention to the voice of the population.
The population everywhere around the country believes it was Mr. Maharaj’s vehement opposition to the bill that forced the government to back down. The FOIA was a signature law of Mr. Maharaj who sought to strengthen laws to protect peoples’ democratic rights. Mr. Maharaj had expressed a disinterest in active politics after his political ill-treatment in the UNC almost a decade ago. The FOIA amendment bill tabled in parliament almost a month ago has put a new spotlight on Mr. Maharaj to come out of political retirement to rescue the country from what some described as poor governance. Voters said that the country needs a political character with integrity and decency like Mr. Maharaj especially that almost every voter tells the poll’s interviewers that the country is moving in the wrong direction. Voters also complained about corruption and crime. Voters say that if a character like Mr. Maharaj were to lead a political movement, it will sweep the polls because people have lost faith in both major political parties to solve the problems of the country.
The poll was conducted just over a month ago on a variety of contemporary issues affecting the country. The survey was conducted by Dr. Vishnu Bisram who has been conducting opinion polls in Trinidad & Tobago and around the Caribbean region since 1995. Voters were interviewed at random to reflect the demographics of the population.
The poll also queried voters on the performance of the government and political figures and other issues including the government's welcoming of Venezuelan refugees. Voters were not pleased with refugees overwhelming the authorities of T&T. Voters also expressed their unhappiness with the government not reposing confidence in either one to address the problems facing the country. The opposition UNC is not viewed as a viable alternative to the PNM. People are also dissatisfied with government’s handling of the economy and crime.