(Trinidad Express) Once again, the Integrity Commission finds itself mired in controversy, as Government yesterday suggested that its chairman, Ken Gordon, had been compromised.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan yesterday aggressively condemned the “secret” meeting held between chairman of the Integrity Commission Ken Gordon and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley which took place at Gordon’s home, five days before Rowley’s explosive e-mail disclosures in the House of Representatives. “It reeks and smells of some kind of political conspiracy between the Leader of the Opposition and the chairman of the Integrity Commission to damage the Government and to taint it. Is this why Dr Rowley has been so strident in his calls for the Integrity Commission to investigate this matter?” Ramlogan said.
Stating that he would not yet go as far as saying that Gordon was unfit to hold office, Ramlogan called for a full disclosure of what was discussed at the meeting. “The position of the chairman of the Integrity Commission is almost akin to that of a Chief Justice. He sits in judgment of public officials,” he said. “He (Rowley) has painted the chairman into a PNM political corner, out of which it is very difficult for him to extricate himself,” Ramlogan stated.
Ramlogan said Rowley was a possible prime suspect and a central protagonist in emailgate. “The reason the police asked for his computer is obvious. They want to see whether or not the fabrication of the documents took place on his computer,” the Attorney General stated. “Him (Rowley) being a potential subject of investigation by the Integrity Commission itself, then why is the chairman meeting with him, when the Commission has not yet even been duly constituted?” Ramlogan said. “If this matter has to go any further, where is the integrity and the independence of any investigation, going to be?” the Attorney General asked.
The Attorney General said the meeting must give rise to grave public concern and grave public disquiet,” for several reasons:
1) The first had to be with the timing of the meeting, coming on the eve of the motion of no-confidence brought by Rowley in the Government “which was based on scandalous allegations about an alleged thread of e-mails which has been deemed a work of fiction and a fabrication”.
2) The Attorney General’s second concern arose out of the venue of the meeting. It took place at the personal residence of the chairman.
3) The third area of concern, he said, was the fact that there is no quorum. “This meeting is highly suspicious..because there is in fact no Integrity Commission,” he said. Under the Integrity in Public Life Act, a quorum for the Commission consists of a chairman or deputy chairman and at least two other members. “In the absence of a duly appointed Commission, what would be the point of meeting the chairman?” Ramlogan asked. “The Integrity in Public Life Act does not give the chairman any powers in his own right. Such powers are only vested in a duly constituted Commission. In the circumstances it is virtually impossible to imagine what lawful business Dr Rowley could have possibly had to discuss with the Chairman.
4) The fourth point raised by the Attorney General related to the procedure adopted by Rowley in seeking the meeting. Ramlogan said the established practice and procedure which governs the making of a complaint and enquiries to the Integrity Commission is via the office of the Registrar of the Commission. “You cannot arrogate onto yourself the right to visit the chairman at his home, or to be calling for him,” the Attorney General said, stressing that this undermines the independence of the process.
“What was the urgent matter that necessitated secret meeting over drinks at the home of the chairman of the Integrity Commission than Dr Rowley could not raise via the proper channels in a letter addressed to the Registrar of the Commission?” Ramlogan asked.
He added: “Let us reverse the roles: If it was Anand Ramlogan or PM who was calling the chairman of the Commission and meeting him at his home in the dead of night, then what pray tell would the population and the PNM have been saying?” He compared the Gordon/Rowley meeting to that of the meeting between former CJ Satnarine Sharma and Basdeo Panday. The Attorney General said the Gordon/Rowley meeting was worse. He pointed out that the latter did not take place at a home over drinks but rather at the office of the former Chief Justice with Panday passing through the normal system of the Hall of Justice. “And there was a grave public outcry from the population, especially from the PNM,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gordon yesterday denied that his meeting with Opposition leader Rowley at his home on May 15 was “secret” or breached any protocol.
Gordon, in a telephone interview yesterday, said the meeting lasted less than 20 minutes.
“Other than small chat, all that was discussed at that meeting was disclosed in the aide memoire,” Gordon said, referring to the aide memoire which the Integrity Commission office made public on Wednesday.
“There was absolutely no breach of protocol. Why would I put the meeting on record if I thought there was,” he said.
Gordon also defended that meeting, saying that in his capacity of Integrity Commission chairman, he was prepared to meet with any Government member who called him with an “urgent matter”.
“I am prepared to meet with any Member of Parliament, either the Opposition leader or the Attorney General at my home or otherwise if something is urgent,” Gordon said.
Gordon’s defence of the meeting comes even as the Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan and Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal have both called for more information on the meeting.
He said the meeting was not in any way clandestine or a secret and that the details of the meeting were handed over to the Integrity Commission registrar the day after the meeting.
While Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, who ventilated the meeting during his contribution to the Financial (Supplementary Appropriation) Bill debate on early Thursday morning has not referred any questions to Gordon, but has instead called on Rowley to make the details of the meeting public.
“It is remarkable that the Integrity Commission issued an aide memoire to remind us of something that never happened in public,” Moonilal said in a telephone interview yesterday.
“It is improper for the Opposition leader to meet in a private setting with the chairman of the Integrity Commission,” he said.
“Dr Rowley did not meet with the chairman at the eighteenth hole at the golf course in Moka but at his private residence. Is it Mr Gordon who did the honourable thing by disclosing the meeting and not Dr Rowley,” he said.
Moonilal said during Rowley’s 115 minute contribution to his no confidence motion against the Prime Minister and her Government on May 20, he failed to mention the meeting with Gordon.
“This is highly improper, highly unethical and would lead to a series of questions on the conduct and fitness of Dr Rowley to hold office,” he said.
Moonilal said Rowley now owed the country a “major explanation” on what transpired at that meeting.