Friday, February 23, 2018

Plenty in the pot


Mark Fraser

THERE are two main issues in the alleged e-mails exchanged by senior members of the Government. First is the reliability of the e-mails and their significance to the Section 34 controversy. Second is the contradictory positions taken by the Prime Minister on the allegations. In the hands of the experts, reliability of the e-mails can be easily resolved. But, those investigations may face difficulties, and the country really needs to have a full and independent investigation into Section 34.

On one hand, early in the debate on the printout of the e-mails, the PM sought a transparent and independent investigation by the police of the printout, promising to “await those findings”. 

But, at the end of the debate, the PM accused the Leader of the Opposition of deliberately and wilfully misleading the House of Representatives and bringing the House into public ridicule and odium. On that basis, the PM sought and obtained from the Speaker of the House a referral of Dr Rowley to the Committee of Privileges, the Speaker finding, “a prima facie case of contempt has been made out”.

The referral of the printout to the police for investigation, and the request of the PM for Dr Rowley to be referred to the Committee are inseparable. Likewise, the so-called “prima facie case” found by the Speaker to have been made out, and the deliberations of the Committee all hinge on that common issue of the reliability of the e-mails. It means that there could be no basis for the Speaker’s finding of a “prima facie case” and no basis for the deliberations of the Committee until the reliability of the printout of alleged e-mails is determined. 

The Speaker’s finding and the PM’s choice of two parallel but contradictory courses add more to the pot, as though the contents poured in by Dr Rowley were not contradictory enough.

Despite Dr Rowley’s reference of the printout of the e-mails to the President for investigation, his confidence in his whistleblower’s printout is underpinned by his approach to his motion of no confidence in the Government. His motion says, “the UNC-led Government has conspired to undermine key institutions of the State”, and specific members of the Government, including the PM, Attorney General, and Minister of Local Government, have participated in such attacks on the State. 

In support of that motion, Dr Rowley provided the House with a combination of the printout and details of certain events, which in his opinion tie in, corroborating the alleged e-mails, and supporting their reliability. 

Dr Rowley also said in his statement in support of his motion and the role of the printout in that motion, that he “wanted to be satisfied” that the printout was information that should be taken seriously and when he was “satisfied” that was so, he took the information to the President. Again, Dr Rowley did not describe the basis of that satisfaction.

Whether or not the e-mails turn out to be genuine, there are serious questions already thrown into the public domain: this motion by Dr Rowley; the printout and its contents; the apparent failure of the Integrity Commission to act immediately on the matters which are within its purview, having regard to the contents of the printout and the implications whether or not any part of it were true; the distrust of the leadership of the Police Service; and, the inability of the country to move past the events of Section 34, all point to the need to fully examine the events surrounding the creation of Section 34 and its passage into law. 

Dr Rowley’s motion of no confidence nestles within Section 34, and some “quizzical” “inexplicable” and “in some cases radical positions taken by the Government”. He says that, “the Government went out of its way to use its office to favour people who were friendly to the Government”. And at the time Section 34 was received with disgust by the public, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) took the position that, “doubtless”, when the AG announced his decision not to appeal the Piarco extradition case the AG “must have had in mind the provisions of Section 34”, drawing the link between the non-extradition and reliance on local proceedings only, and the likely termination of those proceedings by Section 34. 

Again, Section 34, the DPP, and the Guardian reporter at the centre of the Section 34 proclamation form part of the narrative in the whistleblower’s printout and Dr Rowley’s corroboration of the events in support of his motion.  

Two further ingredients have been thrown into the pot. 

First, the DPP has not refuted a recent Guardian story on the bugging of his office at the time Section 34 was a public controversy. This is an issue also raised in the whistleblower’s printout. 

And, in his Guardian column journalist Maxie Cuffie refers to his own experience with a reliable whistleblower and says, “A lot of what I read in the Opposition Leader’s e-mail exposé, however, was consistent with my whistleblower’s information.”

Dr Rowley points to problems with the printout. In a strong rebuttal, the AG paints a picture of unreliability of both Dr Rowley and the printout, zeroing in on the “fabrication” of one gmail address that is supposed to have sent half of the e-mails. 

The reliability of the printout can be quickly established. The more important issue is the way Section 34 continues to threaten the Government and further weaken the relationship of trust. The PM’s reference of Dr Rowley to the Committee of Privileges, contradicts her call for an independent investigation. The Speaker’s finding of a “prima facie case” is unsupportable. And Dr Rowley’s satisfaction with the printout cannot be supported without proof that the e-mails are real.

The real issue is the need to investigate Section 34 fully and these alleged e-mails and surrounding controversy are further cause for an independent investigation.

• Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and a university lecturer