Sport Minister Anil Roberts has escaped prime ministerial action.
In a statement issued last night, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said Roberts, in a letter to her, “categorically denied using illicit drugs” during his tenure as Minister. And the Prime Minister Kamla has decided she would take no action against him “at this time”.
The Prime Minister’s decision came exactly three weeks after a video showing a man resembling Roberts rolling a marijuana cigarette surfaced and generated intense public discussion. The Prime Minister herself acknowledged that “there has been a clamour in some quarters” for her to have taken “immediate action”.
However, the Prime Minister has been persuaded by Robert’s letter to her in which he “attested his innocence”. Robert’s letter stated: “I confirm that I have not used any drugs inclusive of marijuana, during my tenure as Minister of your Government. It is with great sadness that I have watched a relentless media campaign designed to defame, hurt and disrespect not only me, but my wife, children and unborn child, as well as my constituents, my Government and you, my beloved Prime Minister”.
The Prime Minister said: “I am not judge or jury. I can only weigh the statements made by any member of my Government against the evidence or lack thereof presented to me. I hold fast and true to the inviolable principle of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.” She added that this was the basis of the country’s judicial system and informed her own approach in arriving at any conclusion.
The Prime Minister noted that with respect to the video, “Minister Roberts refutes the notion that it represents any evidence of misconduct or criminal activity or that any verification of such can be made”. She said Roberts “affirmed” that “the production of the video is an extreme form of mischief which places one in an uneviable place to ‘defend’ oneself by making statements and pronouncements that in turn will be used in tandem with the video of dubious origin and delayed production to condemn the speaker”.
The Prime Minister said she had demonstrated in the past on many occasions that she did not hesitate to act in addressing any matter, but that she was also “measured” in her decisions which are arrived at “through careful thought, always allowing deep process to take place”.
“I have allowed one of our Government’s coalition parties to address the matter involving Minister Roberts, who is a member of that party as is their right to do. The Congress of the People suspended Roberts for his failure to cooperate with the party, in providing an explanation about the video. Roberts had refused to answer questions when he appeared before the party’s disciplinary committee, telling them that the matter was in the hands of his attorneys.
The Prime Minister said Roberts also described the reports (of corruption and gang-related criminal activity) in the LifeSport programme as “unsubstantiated”. He “submits that he respectfully awaits the outcome of the investigation”, the Prime Minister said. This investigation which is being conducted by the Ministry of Finance, is expected to be completed in three weeks time.
In an immediate response, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said he was not surprised that the Prime Minsiter was making this statement “and I daresay in collusion with the Minister”. “For him (Roberts) to make statements like that and for her to accept it and repeat it, one can only think that they are acting in concert. Secondly I want to remind the Prime Minister that from the very first moment of public information with respect to (former minister) Mr (Collin) Partap, Mr Partap had pled his innocence with respect to what he had alleged to have done- which was refusing to take a breathalsyer test. The Prime Minister fired him before daybreak. And all of what she has said there (with respect to Roberts) about how she proceeds, was not the procedure she followed when she took action against Collin Partap” (and fired him as a Minister).
Rowley said now he also wanted to advise the Prime Minister that all the money that her Government has spent installing cameras around Trinidad and Tobago had been wasted. “They must now take down all those cameras. Because if the Prime Minister is asking us not to believe our eyes and our ears when we get information presented to us in this manner, then we should cease to look to the cameras around the country for any assistance with respect to identifying any person who may appear on the camera.”
Rowley said he wanted the Prime Minister to know that she was fooling no one on this matter. “She is unable to act, she refuses to act and she has put the country in a very invidious position. The (Sport) Minister is a laughing stock and this statement would confirm that they are a mutual protection society, that they are mutual protectors of wrongdoing” the Opposition Leader stated. “All her lofty speeches, contradictory as they are, impress no one. This is a Prime Minister who is failing to act in a situation that calls for Prime Ministerial intervention,” he added.