Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Taking in front


Mark Fraser

 On the resurfaced “e-mail” allegations, the real issue is the AG’s decision to undertake a parallel and undisclosed investigation. The controversy resurfaces alongside the latest State tendering revelations, the proposed and controversial amendments to the Constitution, and the national awards fiasco. So the AG’s sudden certification from Google looks like the usual People’s Partnership distraction but this is no simple sideshow. It is real. 

Leader of the Opposition Dr Keith Rowley’s May 2013 e-mail disclosures to the Parliament is in the hands of independent investigators. The PM and AG are parties with a vested interest in a favourable outcome of those investigations. In May 2013 a statement from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) noted the “novelty and magnitude which define the perimeter of the investigation” and pointed to the retention of experts in the foreign jurisdiction relevant to the investigation. 

Without a conclusion to that process, the sudden disclosure of the AG’s parallel secret work to “clear his name” is disturbing because ultimately, whatever the merits of Dr Rowley’s disclosures, it is for the independent investigations to reach the end, and not for the AG, in either his personal or public capacity, to impose upon those investigations the favourable outcome he desires.

Of little consequence is the question of the private versus public nature of the AG’s action. The real question is the requirement for disclosure. Did this secret action create mischief or at least the opportunity for mischief? Within the office of the AG both the Anti-Corruption Investigation Bureau (ACIB) and the Central Authority are likely engaged in investigations of this nature. 

The AG’s personal interest in a favourable outcome of the investigations can collide with his office’s public duty to defend the public’s interest. And at the heart of that potential collision is an unassailable duty of disclosure to remove any spectre of interference, mischief, and taint.  

Dr Rowley’s revelations were shocking. But the question of the legitimacy of the e-mails was placed in the hands of the President and the Commissioner of Police. Those investigations are underway, the President having referred the matter to the Integrity Commission. The DPP signalled his intent. This forced disclosure of a parallel investigation is unprecedented and troubling.  

On the face of it, the AG’s parallel investigation of the e-mails serves two purposes: an ongoing political objective of clearing baggage accumulated since May 2010, with the AG clearly intent on extending his political life through a safe UNC constituency in the next general election. This clean-up is an internal Partnership requirement for his future. Second, the sudden and potentially distracting revelation of final findings by Google amidst a series of unrelated controversies facing the Government fits into the Partnership’s modus operandi. 

In reality this adds to a perceived distrust of the AG that has deepened over time. That perception runs along party lines. Some of it spills over. Still, the primary question in the revelation of this parallel investigation and the fruit of that labour, is whether the AG should have respected the processes the President, PM, Leader of the Opposition, the DPP and the acting Commissioner of Police set in motion. This is a search for the truth but more importantly a defence of the public interests.

The e-mail allegations were hardly left off the political platform. They entered local political folklore, an alchemy of modern technology and ancient bacchanal. Now, the original controversies sit alongside further developments and newer controversies. An early disclosure of this parallel action may have avoided taint. But it is too late. The e-mails may be fake, but the distrust is real. 

—The author is a lawyer and possible PNM candidate for the next general election