Go tell the Integrity Commission that it must be consistent.
In January 2013 the Commission said it was contrary to its guidelines and established practice to announce investigations that are underway. So, how does the Commission explain its unprecedented publication in March 2013 of the list of 83 matters under its investigation? And, how does it explain its announcement of an investigation into one of Jack Warner’s many by-election allegations?
If, as Commission Chairman Ken Gordon has said, the Commission, “is charged with operating above the hurly burly of partisan politics”, how does it explain its weakness on the “travel assistant” issue involving the PM’s sister, and how does it now explain its selection of one allegation, made on a political platform in a hotly contested by-election by a politician described as having a “detached relationship to the truth”? If anything, the Integrity Commission should investigate Warner, do a better job in its investigations, and not get sidetracked by Warner’s by-election rah-rah.
As far as the public knows, the Integrity Commission does not disclose the matters under its investigation. Nearing the end of the May 15 aide-memoire on the controversial meeting with the Leader of the Opposition at Gordon’s private residence, Chairman Gordon says, “I reminded Dr Rowley that it is not the practice of the commission to disclose the matters which are before the commission.” Before that, in December 2012 when Gordon addressed the Commission’s 25th anniversary celebrations, he emphasised that, “it is not, nor has it ever been the Commission’s practice to announce any of the matters which are under investigation by the Commission”.
In between those two statements of practice made by Chairman Gordon, the Commission contradicted itself by publishing in its 2012 Annual Report released in March 2013 the list of 83 matters under investigation in 2012, with a very brief description and status of each matter. Now the Commission contradicts its own practice again by announcing the by-election allegation investigation, weeks after Gordon’s aide memoire declared it was something the Commission did not do.
The decision to give priority to this, or any Warner allegation also raises questions about the Commission’s priorities and use of limited resources. Chairman Gordon’s media statements following the August 14 press release pointed to a lack of manpower and an intention to “selectively investigate some matters”. Of course the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA) allows the Commission to investigate on its own volition, but selectivity will thrust the Commission into the “hurly burly of partisan politics” if the Commission is not careful. How will the Integrity Commission defend a decision to “selectively” investigate matters involving integrity in public life? What measure will the Commission use in drawing up its priority list? Will the Commission allocate its investigative resources of the basis of value, impact, or level of bacchanal? Can the Commission do better than its half-baked response to the “travel assistant” complaint?
The Integrity Commission has to be careful with the politics. Its list of 83 matters from 2012 includes several involving ministers and former ministers, ministries and state-owned enterprises and directors of state enterprises. One complaint was the foreign travel of the Prime Minister’s sister. That complaint closed with a letter from the Commission to the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister. The Commission advised that it, “found no breach of the Integrity of Public Life Act, Chapter 22:01 by anyone at the Office of Prime Minister.” That conclusion was lazy, inadequate, and incomplete for a matter that raised the problematic issues of conflicts of interest, transparency, and the collision of private interests and public resources.
Both reasons for rejecting the complaint point to a lack of appreciation by the Commission of the issue at hand, namely the possible use of Cabinet to rubber-stamp the desire to have the PM’s sister travel with her at public expense. In handling that complaint the Commission failed in its oversight and guidance role. The Commission should have gotten to the core where public resources and private interests collide, as in this case, in full view of the public.
Having failed on that “travel assistant” complaint, the Commission must be wary of these allegations made by Warner. In the Commission’s 83 matters from 2012, matter number 39 is the “complaint requesting an investigation into the receipt of US$40,000 by a Minister of Government.” While the Commission lists its investigation into the US$40,000 as “continuing”, it may, for various reasons, want to complete that investigation and then chase down stories peddled by Warner.
Already, it is unsurprising that Warner is not gung-ho to cooperate with the Commission on his allegations. Warner now says he does not want to cause the demise of the Government. In the July 2012 decision on Mohamed bin Hammam’s FIFA appeal, the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) noted that even bin Hammam argued that Warner’s evidence was unreliable because it contradicted other statements he made. And, while the CAS’s finding that Warner is “prone to an economy of the truth” is heavily cited, the CAS also found that Warner’s own actions were “marked by manifest and frequent inconsistency”.
Since the Integrity Commission has acted on its own volition, and will likely take Warner’s information under oath as the IPLA provides, recent history suggests that Chairman Gordon and his Commissioners would not see Warner with his evidence anytime soon. It’s all part of the “hurly burly of partisan politics”, as Chairman Gordon described it, and Warner gets to be accuser and accused.
At least he is being consistent.
*Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer
and a university lecturer