Defense lawyer Grant Connell has called on Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to get rid of the bad eggs in the operation of the Public Assistance System.
Connell was speaking to us on Wednesday, in relation to the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to appeal Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne’s decision on December 28, 2021, to discharge former National Mobilization employees Denville Thomas and Learie Johnson, at the Preliminary Inquiry (PI), on charges of defrauding and stealing from the nation’s Public Assistance Fund four years ago.
“I sympathize with the Prime Minister, to having to find $millions monthly to run the country and have people delegated to do certain jobs, and they are not fulfilling their obligations, adding pressure. I hope he addresses it soon, because it affects all tax payers, and as the good book of Matthew says, ‘…the poor you will always have with you, ’” Connell who represented Johnson declared.
“I can see the objectives if the Appeal Court will give clarity on the issue, well, we will see. The appeal is novel and the learning process has no boundaries. The Appeal Court can adjust a sentence, quash or uphold a conviction, or order a retrial. At the PI, there was no sentence, no conviction, nor was it a trial,” the lawyer added.
Connell said that the problem is beyond appeal, and called for fundamental changes to the entire Public Assistance procedure. “It’s archaic,” he opined.
“The question as to how so many names of deceased individuals are still on the relief list that is sent to the registry is no mystery. It is easily traceable. There is a document called ‘Life Certificate Form’ for public assistance recipients, addressed to the Permanent Secretary (PS) of National Mobilization with a voter’s number on it. This form must be filed out and certified by individuals which include, police of a certain rank, lawyers, Justices of the Peace, ministers of religion, senior civil servants, doctors, members of parliament or notary public, who certify that the person-applicant is alive, where they reside, which constituency, or which school, if applicable.”
Connell added that the gender of the applicant, recipient status, and type of assistance which is requested are also stated.
“So firstly, simply check who signed these documents, who they were submitted to, or if the document exists at all. That is the first thing to set off the alarm that there is an issue to be addressed,” the defense lawyer stated.
“If the Prime Minister gets a transcript of this case, he would see for himself, and being a criminal defense lawyer, maybe not as sharp as 30 years ago, but dissecting the Prosecution’s case would be easy. Albeit a post mortem, he would see how the system is being operated, and if it allowed for the rats to eat the cheese.
Common sense would dictate that if one sees a rat run across your foot, there is no need to set bait again, you just stamp it and kick it out, matter fixed as the late Sister Pat used to say. If the system is losing money that way, maybe that’s what he has to do, identify the rats and kick them out of the system,” Connell urged.
Source : The Vincentian