E-mails, including request for payment, by Guyanese interior designer Supriya Singh were among the evidence that was presented to Dominica’s Integrity Commission to trigger a probe into Prime Minis-ter Roosevelt Skerrit’s alleged ownership of a multi-million dollar real estate development.
The Commission, which found that it had no jurisdiction to investigate the allegation, did however find enough to announce an investigation into Skerrit allegedly using his influence to secure concessions for the property. In its ruling in July, the Integrity Commission announced an inquiry and said that it felt an investigation was necessary to ascertain whether Skerrit committed a breach of the code of conduct for persons in public life.
The ruling, which has been seen by this newspaper, was based on several complaints filed by journalist Lennox Linton, who alleged that Skerrit had in his possession eight ocean front villas at Guilette, Savanne Paille, with an estimated market value of EC$8M, which could not be explained by his legal income.
Skerrit has denied interest in the property and has welcomed the inquiry to clarify the issue. However, he later recanted this position and said “The Commission was wrong to write to me,” since it had indicated there was no evidence that he had interest in those properties.
Linton had also contended that in order to finance his ownership of the villas, Skerrit accepted “gifts, benefits or advantages” in contravention of the Code of Conduct. Additionally, he contended that source of the “gifts, benefits or advantages” was clearly a matter for the Commission. Linton also complained that Skerrit used his chairmanship of a cabinet meeting in 2007 to a grant a full suite of concessions to Blaircourt property Develop-ment Limited for the construction of the villas.
“The Prime Minister used the corporate cloak of Blair-court Property Development and a number of persons engaged to serve him, to hide the truth of his ownership of the property and thereby prevent the Integrity Commis-sion from taking appropriate action as required by law,” Linton argued in his complaint.
However, the Commission found that it had no jurisdiction in the complaint about Skerrit’s alleged possession of the property, explaining that “possession” could only be established through a successful criminal proceedings by the islands Director of Public Prosecutions.
To support his case, Linton had submitted an ‘Evidence Bundle’ to the Commission, which included e-mails sent from the interior designer Singh, who was allegedly contracted by the prime minister to decorate one of the villas. The e-mails included invoices, agreements and the scope of the works to be done on the project.
In one of the e-mails, sent to Skerrit adviser Hartley Henry, requesting payment from the prime minister, the designer said: “I need to be paid the initial down payment of 35% of US$58,000 which is what I propose to charge him for the work I am doing on this project. I will attach the contract in a separate email. I have addressed the contract to you so [as] not to put his name on any paperwork… Please ask Skeritt to pay me the advance through the bank I need at least 7,000 US now in Dominica.”
In his oral presentation to the Commission, which was included in the commission’s ruling, Linton had argued that the commission had the purchase of lands on which the villas are located; the completion of architectural designs for the villas; the engagement of a construction team for the villas; the purchase of construction materials for the villas; and the commencement of construction at the villas.
“I am not sure whether the Commission is suggesting that it is not legally empowered to look into the ownership of assets that are disproportionate to the legal income of a person in public… If that is what the commission is suggesting, I respectfully beg to disagree,” Linton had told the Commission.
The Commission, however, maintained it position on its lack of authority to ahead, while also concluding that it could not proceed on Linton’s assertions that Skerrit accepted “gifts, benefits and advantages” in direct contravention to the law, because “it is unparticularized and not supported by the content of the Evidence Bundle.”
Linton’s testimony did, however, change the Com-mission’s position on the merits of an investigation into whether Skerrit used his influence to secure concessions in which he is accused of having an interest.