Friday, February 23, 2018

2011 Integrity query on Jack's assets


WORKING THE LAND: Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) leader Ashworth Jack tends to lettuce in his garden in this photograph that was posted on his Facebook page yesterday. The photo album, titled "Gardening in the House that Jack Built", contained several images of him with other produce and quoted from a letter that Thomas Jefferson (US president 1801-1809) wrote to George Washington (first US President 1789-1797) in 1787: "Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness".

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An official query was made to the Integrity Commission on October 19, 2011 with respect to the assets declared by Minority Leader of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), Ashworth Jack.

A letter written by Moses O Thomas, of Feeder Road, Canaan Village, Tobago, specifically raised the issue of the land at St George on which Jack's multi-million house has been built.

The Express yesterday obtained both the letter and the letter of acknowledgement from the Commission.

In the letter, Thomas asked the Commission to examine more carefully Jack's declarations of 2003 to 2008 which he said were "fraught with inconsistencies".

"It begs the question, is the Integrity Commission doing enough to investigate public officials?" the letter stated.

The letter pointed out that Jack declared one parcel of land at #14 Jack Trace, Mt Grace in Tobago in 2003 and in 2004 another parcel of land (six acres) at Mount St George.

"He said on the declaration that a downpayment was made on the land with a view to full ownership. But 2006 in the years that follow 2005 to 2008, no declaration was made about the parcel of land situated at Mt George," the letter stated.

It added: "Subsequently a house has been erected on the land and because there is no declaration available for the period 2009 to 2011, it raises a lot of questions."

Jack has not submitted a declaration of income and assets to the Integrity Commission for the last two years.

Thomas also stated that there were several vehicles not in the name of A 'J' Rentals (Jack's rental business) now in the possession of Mr Jack. He referred to a vehicle Toyota SUV No # PCR 5066.

On November 9, 2011, Thomas received an acknowledgement from Martin Farrell, Registrar of the Commission.

Thomas' letter and the letter of acknowledgement from the Registrar are somewhat at variance with the position taken by Commission chairman Ken Gordon that the Commission had received no formal information on the issue and therefore would not be investigating the matter.

Gordon told the Express on Sunday that Jack would not be investigated unless and until it came to the Commission as a formal query.

Commenting on Gordon's statement yesterday, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said an amendment to the Integrity Act in 2000 gave the Commission the power to investigate issues on their own accord.

"Once the Commission is of the view that there is something to be investigated, it doesn't have to wait on anybody to file (a complaint). So how then can the chairman be saying, 'we can't look into the matter because nobody has filed a complaint', in the face of an allegation against a person in public life who falls under the Act. It tell you that they don't seem to know their functions as Integrity Commission," Rowley said.

Gordon: Formal

complaint needed

Chairman of the Integrity Commission, Ken Gordon, said yesterday that the Commission did have the right to take the initiative and investigate a matter, but that was a decision that is taken by the Commission as a whole after it deliberates on the matter.

He was responding to statements made by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley that he (Rowley) could not understand how Gordon could have told the Express that the Commission would not investigate the issue of TOP leader Ashworth Jack's multi-million-dollar home unless it gets a formal query.

Gordon said he had stated that it was not the normal way you deal with such an issue. "In the normal way, you get a formal complaint supported by evidence," he said. And once there is such a complaint, an investigation is almost an automatic process.

But if the Commission does not get a formal complaint, it does not mean that the Commission can't initiate an investigation, he said. But the initiation of an investigation is a process observed by the Commission "meeting and discussing the matter and saying 'should we initiate an investigation' because it means that we start from scratch," he said.

On the issue of a letter written by Moses O Thomas in October 2011 raising the specific issue of Jack's assets, Gordon said he could not comment on this letter because he did not know anything about it. He said however there are times when people write asking the Commission to intervene in a matter without attempting to put information together. He said that the Commission expects persons making complaints to provide valid information.