Just before he turns for the exit, His Excellency could upset a preferred People’s Partnership design for the Integrity Commission. To stop the President, the Prime Minister suggests that His Excellency’s remaining time is too short for due diligence on new commissioners.
It’s remarkable that the PM can suggest due diligence for the Integrity Commission, but not consider it a priority for her Cabinet and government.
The PM’s first due diligence disaster was of course the shortlived appointment of Reshmi Ramnarine as head of the Strategic
Services Agency (SSA). In a January 2011 challenge to that appointment, I wrote that the Director of the SSA must of necessity command an understanding of complex drug-related activity and complex crime involving narcotics to be able to advise the Minister of National Security. And, I wrote that the Director must possess the independence and maturity to deal with the directions of the Minister of National Security, including refusing those directions where they compromise national security interests.
When the PM used an Express interview in September 2011 to
sheepishly describe the SSA fiasco as her biggest mistake, she should have better described it as a disaster. There was no way the PM could have believed that her appointee came close to meeting those requirements, suggesting a major failure in her judgment and due diligence.
Then, as that SSA failure seemed impossible to repeat, Jack
Warner’s appointment as Minister of National Security became another failure of due diligence. A simple Google search should have satisfied the PM that this appointment was not advisable, if only on the issue of public perception.
In June 2012, I summarised the context of Warner’s appointment to National Security in this way: “Amongst other things Warner remains associated with unpaid bonuses for the celebrated national football team; untidy accounting for funds provided to the World Cup campaigns; allegations regarding donations meant for Haitian earthquake victims; and more recently the ownership of the FIFA-owned and funded Centre of Excellence.
The international media has not forgotten Mr Warner. Apart from Reuters’ and the BBC’s tongue-in-cheek announcement of Warner’s new
appointment, last month the UK media referred to Lasana Liburd’s news website wired868.com which published documents linking the Warner family in a personal way to the Centre of Excellence. Liburd, the former Express journalist who famously broke the Simpaul Travel/World Cup 2006 ticket scandal over the 2005 Christmas season, referred to an $11m mortgage held by two Warner family companies, Renraw and CCAM, and secured by the FIFA-owned property.”
With Warner still holding on, the PM’s letter to His Excellency
refers to intense public scrutiny of commissioners and embarrassing revelations about persons’ characters or their conduct. This brings to mind: Therese Baptiste- Cornelis’ appointment as a minister, and then ambassador; the former chairman of TTEC and Dr Haffizool Mohammed’s appointments and the million ex-gratia payment to a minister; and, a former CLICO director and head of that company’s audit committee, as a minister with significant governance responsibility.
The PM’s letter to His Excellency also suggests that she is prepared to contradict herself for expediency. Last month, the PM distanced her government from Minister Warner’s call to Independent Senators to “do the honourable thing” and resign, to give the incoming President an opportunity to appoint replacements.
The PM’s position was that, “It is not the place of the Government to call upon, or to seek or to harass anybody to leave or resign”; it was totally within the purview and the jurisdiction of the President; and, it would be inappropriate for any Government to seek “to trespass” on the purview of the President.
Now, the PM attempts to trespass on the purview and jurisdiction of both the outgoing and incoming holders of the office of President. On one hand her letter seeks to prevent His Excellency from making appointments he is entitled by law to make. On the other hand, the PM suggests that the incoming President’s legal background will give him a particular advantage in making appointments to the Integrity Commission.
One such appointment is that of Chairman, for which the Government has a preference. In February 2012, the Express reported the AG as saying that all the Integrity Commission’s problems had their genesis, “in the failure of the PNM to have reappointed the late retired Justice Des Iles”. The AG added that, “It seems to me that the error really has to do with the break with a fairly well-established tradition in going with someone of the stature of a retired judge, it has always been the case that a retired judge or someone with a legal background would serve as chairman of that Commission.”
After nearly three years in office, the AG has not proposed a simple change to the Integrity in Public Life Act to prescribe legal qualifications for the Chairman of the Commission. And, under the Act, only the President can appoint the Chairman and other members of the Commission, after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of
the Opposition. It means that the Government must leave the selection
of the commissioners up to this President, or the next one.
Unfortunately, none of this will help the Integrity Commission. Its troubles are beyond the reach of any new Commission.
The prospect of new legislation forcing “integrity” is farfetched, given the country’s experience with politicians on both sides of
the House. The rut that set in has deepened, but amongst the incoming
President’s skills, miracle worker is not one.
If President George Maxwell Richards has to take due diligence
advice from the PM, His Excellency may as well go ahead with his choices for the Integrity Commission.No mistake would be bigger than the PM’s.
(Rest in peace,Prof John Spence)
* Clarence Rambharat is an attorney and a university lecturer