UWI lecturer wants probe into T&T President Carmona on housing $$

(Trinidad Guardian) In an historic move and in the midst of what she claims are death threats, University of the West Indies lecturer,  Rhoda Bharath, has written to acting Commissioner of Police (CoP) Harold Phillips requesting a criminal investigation be launched into President Anthony Carmona and Chief Personnel Officer, Stephanie Lewis.

Bharath has written the commissioner about the issue of the housing allowance granted to Carmona and which she said remained unresolved for two years.  The investigation, she said, should centre around possible misconduct in public office. The letter to the CoP was written for Bharath by her attorney, Justin Phelps. It contained the advice of Queen’s Counsel Cathryn Mc Gahey who Bharath retained early this month concerning whether a request to the CoP to investigate the President, his secretary, Esther Daniel-Liverpool, and the CPO was justified.

“Ms Mc Gahey has advised me that a request for such an investigation is justified,” she said. Bharath said Mc Gahey told her: “The case is finely balanced but I believe that there are at the moment reasonable grounds to suspect that the offence of misconduct in public office has been committed. “The circumstances in which the President came to receive the housing allowance have not yet been fully investigated or, if they have, the results of the investigation have not been made public.

“There are reasonable grounds to suspect that a request for the allowance was made on the President’s behalf and with his knowledge. There are some grounds to suspect that the President and/or others involved knew or believed that he was not entitled to the allowance.”

Bharath, in the company of Phelps, said at a Trinidad Hilton press conference: “My writing to the Commissioner does not mean that the President, the accounting officer or the CPO are guilty of any offence. “It means only that there is sufficient material in connection with the receipt of public funds by the President to warrant a thorough, efficient and transparent criminal investigation.”

Bharath said in Carmona’s September 28 2016 address to the nation, he appeared to contradict documents she had in her possession when he said he did not suggest to the Salaries Review Commission that he be given the housing allowance. She gave the media copies of a June 9, 2013 letter from the CPO’s Office to the President’s secretary, Esther Daniel-Liverpool, concerning the payment of housing allowance to the President. “Where an office holder is provided with accommodation by the State, a housing allowance is not payable for any period during which he/she is provided with such accommodation.

President Anthony Carmona and Rhoda Barath
President Anthony Carmona and Rhoda Barath

“In instances where the official residence is not available and suitable housing accommodation is not provided, a housing allowance is payable.” The CPO said the President was provided with temporary accommodation at Flagstaff Hill pending renovations to President’s House and, in view of the particular circumstances, a housing allowance of $15,450 should be paid to him.

In his address to the nation on September 28, 2016, Carmona answered a number of questions raised by Bharath about exorbitant spending by President’s House on Italian wine, jewelry and chocolates. He said the Flagstaff Hill accommodations leaked all over and he rented an apartment for his family paying $12,000 a month from his own pocket. He said when he moved into the Presidential Cottage on May 30, 2015, he immediately instructed the Accounting Department to stop payment of the housing allowance.

Legal sources told the T&T Guardian that while the Office of the President could not be prosecuted, the President himself was not immune from a criminal investigation

Threats

Bharath said she had received two death threats as a result of the question she raised about the Office of the President and she was abused and harassed.

Pressed, she said the threats were made online and she reported them to the police Cyber Crime Unit.

Bharath also claimed she got “third-hand information” from her UWI colleagues that the Office of the President called the university to find out what she did there. She said she was made to understand she was being monitored and observed at UWI.

Bharath dismissed questions that her questions about the President was politically motivated and that it was a plan to replace him with a “Rowley appointee” when his first term expires next year. All presidents, to date, have served two terms. Bharath said her only motivation was to get public officials to practise accountability.

She said she did not work for any government or party nor had she received any benefits, favour, grace or goodwill from, the PNM, UNC or any political party.

Asked by the media about her rejection (by the President) in her bid to become an Independent Senator, Bharath said she was recommended by author/publisher, Gerard Besson, as a possible appointee to a statutory institution and not a senatorial position.

She said she had a 20 or 30-minute meeting with the President about the matter. Phelps, sitting next to her, was asked about his PNM links and reminded he appeared on PNM election campaign platforms last year.

Phelps said when he joined the PNM he was only exercising his constitutional right and said that had nothing to do with his job as an attorney. The T&T called UWI’s Modern Languages and Linguistics Department where Bharath works and asked whether they knew that the Office of the President was monitoring her.

A staffer said: “That’s for the head to answer.” After apparently discussing the matter with the head (Dr Nicole Roberts), she said: “The head seems to be busy. Can you leave a telephone number.” Communications Officer at the President’s Office, Theron Boodan, said if there was anything to respond to at all he would, adding he has not heard Bharath himself. Phillips could not be reached.

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