Rowley to take T&T PM to Integrity Commission over sister
(Trinidad Express) Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley yesterday announced that the issue of the TT$866,000 of public funds spent on the travels of the Prime Minister’s sister, Vidwatie Newton, is to be referred to the Integrity Commission.
Rowley also stated the People’s National Movement (PNM) would only support the complete, not partial, withdrawal from the Privy Council as this country’s final court of appeal. He was speaking at the Opposition Leader’s office in Port of Spain.
“We call on the Government not to cast its position in stone, especially a position arrived at with such flippancy, designed to replace a headline about travel of an assistant (Newton),” he said.
“If it took an TT$800,000 expense to have given birth to the ending of the Privy Council, it might have been money well spent,” he quipped.
However, he stressed: “We will settle for nothing less than a complete break—removing both criminal and civil authority from the Privy Council to the Caribbean Court of Justice and making the CCJ our court of appeal and we would confront every political obstacle between there and here.
“Once the bill comes without the albatross that is on the neck of the current proposal, the PNM’s support is guaranteed. If on the other hand, they (the Government) choose to go by referendum, the PNM will take full part in it and as aggressively as we can … would ensure that the population is encouraged to vote ‘yes’ to the removal of our final court of appeal (i.e. the Privy Council),” he said.
However, he said the PNM felt a referendum being called for by the Congress of the People, was unnecessary. “There can be no referendum that can be more effective than a general election,” he said.
He said the country now had three positions —the UNC, COP and PNM positions—the last of which was the most sensible.
He said the PNM was advised the phased withdrawal was not feasible, lawful or workable. He also noted statements of former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj that a previous government attempted to have a partial withdrawal and was informed by the British government it would not hold on to civil responsibility while ceding criminal responsibility.
On the issue of Newton, Rowley said the matter would be referred to the Integrity Commission “so that the Commission can determine after its own investigation whether this TT$800,000 was properly spent with the proper authority. We will advance the questions, answers and the public utterances (of the Prime Minister on the matter).”
He also lamented that public officers, namely the Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister, was now out in front “seeking to provide a palatable explanation to what we call political abuse of public funds”.