We are entering the endgame of the Colman Commission, so we need to maintain full vigilance. We must bear witness in a sober manner.
Former PNM ministers Danny Montano, Conrad Enil and Mariano Browne were recently named by Commission Chairman Sir Anthony Colman as having declined to testify. That refusal to appear before the Commission of Enquiry amounts to a kind of contempt of court, since it is willful disrespect for a lawful enquiry.
These are PNM seniors, whose testimonies would have been invaluable in unravelling this series of financial collapses. Mariano Browne was minister in the Ministry of Finance and is the PNM treasurer, so he could have given a rare insight into the linkages between these collapses and the large-scale donations made by both the CL Financial Group and the Hindu Credit Union (HCU).
Conrad Enill comes from a credit union background, was also minister in the Ministry of Finance up to the 2007 general elections and served as PNM chairman up to their 2010 election loss.
Enill called for an investigation into the finances of HCU as far back as mid-2002, but swiftly withdrew from that course of action after reportedly being pressured by then PM Manning. Danny Montano was minister of labour, which had supervisory responsibility for HCU. It is clear that the testimony of these three former PNM Cabinet Ministers would have been crucial to the Colman Commission unraveling this financial fiasco. Both Browne and Montano are chartered accountants, so this resembles 'conduct unbecoming a professional'.
The PNM is now making serious efforts to market itself as a party which stands for good values in terms of accountability, transparency and good governance. Given the PNM's track record that is a great challenge. These reported refusals are doing great damage to those efforts.
Ironically enough, at this moment Dr Bhoe Tewarie and Karen Nunez-Tesheira are both looking better than these three former PNM ministers, given that they have both appeared before the commission.
Sir Anthony Colman was reported to have held certain missing witnesses in the HCU matter in contempt of court when they failed to appear. Will the same treatment apply to these PNM Seniors?
What is more, the DPP is reported to have written to the Colman Commission to say —
"...I am particularly concerned that an otherwise credible prosecution might be stopped by the court on the grounds that a defendant's right to a fair trial had been fatally compromised by the publicity attendant upon your enquiry. As such, I shall be issuing a press release warning the media against the publication of any material which may jeopardise the police investigation and any potential criminal proceedings..."
We also read that "...Gaspard also issued a stern warning to media houses last night to cease publication of "anything which might jeopardise, hinder or otherwise prejudice the investigation or any possible proceedings which might result from it...".
The Colman Commission has maintained the modern standard of public enquires in that interested persons in the public can choose from attendance in person, live TV, streaming webcasts, online transcripts and online witness statements. It seemed to me that the position being taken by the DPP could jeopardise the public interest in having this information broadcast in the widest possible terms.
On 10th November I read this — "…Meantime, the Commission of Enquiry is set to restart on December 3 with former Central Bank governor Ewart Williams and Inspector of Financial Institutions Carl Hiralal expected to take the witness stand…"
At this stage we are expecting to hear the testimony of the chiefs in this series of disasters — Duprey, Ewart Williams, Carl Hiralal, Robert Mayers, Faris Al-Rawi, Ram Ramesh, Andre Monteil. I am very concerned that we are now seeing what appears to be a detrimental development in terms of complete transparency.
I was encouraged to read the DPP's statement that —
"I remain mindful of competing public interest factors including the fair trial rights of potential defendants, the freedom of the press and the requirement of open justice."
This is definitely an aspect which needs our most intense scrutiny.
Finally, we come to the matter of former CLICO CEO Gene Dziadyk, offering to tell the inside story on what went wrong inside CLICO. I have read his material and he takes a completely opposite view to me as to what has happened here. But the fact that he is a trained actuary, who was at the centre of the scene for so long, makes his testimony invaluable for the insights it will allow the Colman Commission. I was therefore very surprised to read that he is not going to be called as a witness, so I am going to write to the Commission to request that Dziadyk be given the opportunity to testify.
Readers who are interested in having the testimony of Gene Dziadyk form part of the Colman Commission need to write to state their support for that to happen — the Secretary to the Enquiry is Judith Gonzales and her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Afra Raymond is a commentator on public matters; this discussion is also
hosted at www.afraraymond.com