Integrity body queries ministry trip to Jamaica
Former PS changes story on Warner paying for staff tickets
Ria Taitt Political Editor
The Integrity Commission has written to former permanent secretary Cheryl Blackman, seeking an explanation for the all-expenses trip to Jamaica which her former minister, Jack Warner, stated had been paid for by him.
The Integrity Commission wrote to Blackman in August, raising questions about whether she received a “gift”. The Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA) requires a person in public life to disclose to the commission all gifts received in excess of $5,000. Permanent secretaries fall under the act.
The price of a return ticket from Trinidad and Tobago to Jamaica is $6,843 (first class) and $4,185 (economy). Blackman stayed at the Pegasus Hotel.
Section 3 of the act states: “Where a gift or personal benefit referred to in subsection (2) exceeds $5,000 in value or where the total value received directly or indirectly from one source in any 12-month period exceeds $5,000, a person in public life shall file with his declaration a statement indicating the nature of the gift or benefit, its source and the circumstances under which it is given or accepted.”
The commission’s queries came in light of disclosures by Warner in his first public meeting in Chaguanas on April 24, following his resignation as national security minister.
He said he travelled once on Government business as a minister and it was at his expense. “When in January 2011, I went to Jamaica with my permanent secretary and other members of staff from the Ministry of Works and Transport for the signing of the documents for the merger of Caribbean Airlines and Jamaica
.... I paid all my expenses, including my air travel and accommodation, and I also paid the expenses for my staff”.
Blackman, at that time (April 25, 2013), told the Express she and other members of staff went on a private trip which had nothing to do with official Government business.
“I and the minister’s staff broke no rules or no laws.... We were there privately.... We didn’t go on Government business.... I didn’t think we did anything wrong,” she had stated.
She added the Cabinet minute reflected the fact she was not part of the official delegation which comprised the minister, chairman of the board of Caribbean Airlines and the foreign service representative in Jamaica.
However, Blackman, who as permanent secretary was the administrative head of the ministry, in explaining her actions to the commission, distanced herself from the statements she made in the Express report of April 2013.
She reportedly told the commission she was unaware of who paid for the ticket to Jamaica. She also reportedly told the commission she did not know the ticket was paid for by Warner or the cost of the trip would have required a declaration on her part to the commission, in accordance with the Integrity in Public Life Act.
She also reportedly suggested she believed her stay (accommodation and meals) at the Pegasus Hotel was paid for by Caribbean Airlines. Blackman also told the commission her trip to Jamaica was to provide technical support to Warner, who had requested she attend the Caribbean Airlines relaunch of the Air Jamaica brand in Jamaica with him. The launch was held for Friday, January 14, 2011.
Head of the Public Service Reynold Cooper and former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas had questioned the appropriateness of the trip when it was revealed in April.
Dumas pointed out the permanent secretary was the accounting officer in the ministry and the person who ensures all the proper regulations and procedures are followed, and “should not be in a position where she is taking gifts from the minister”.
The Express attempted to contact Blackman yesterday. On one occasion, a woman answered her phone, but when the Express identified itself, the line went dead. A text message and a voice message were sent to the cellphone, but there was no response to them or to the subsequent calls on the same line.
Meanwhile, the Integrity Commission is asking for the power to authorise investigations, summon witnesses and subpoena persons.
In a release issued yesterday, the Integrity Commission stated it was proposing certain amendments to Part V (Sections 32 to 44) of the IPLA, which deals with the power of investigation. The commission wants powers of search, seizure and arrest.
It is also recommending systemic arrangements be made to facilitate the exchange of information between the Board of Inland Revenue, the Police Service, Customs and Immigration and the Financial Intelligence Unit, in order to avoid dupli-
cation of effort and enhance investigative capabilities.
The Integrity Commission is suggesting the High Court have the power to freeze the assets of a person under investigation. Lastly, the Commission is proposing that Section 32 of the IPLA be amended to include a provision imposing a duty on persons exercising public functions to report any act which he/she suspects may concern corrupt conduct.
The commission stated the issue of the strengthening of its investigative powers had been addressed for the past 18 months. “The commission’s recommendations will be presented for further public comment and in a final document to the Attorney General for submission to Parliament,” the release stated.
The commission’s suggestions comes days after statements by its chairman, Ken Gordon, that the commission was “almost like a toothless tiger”. The release added there were a number of things which the IPLA directs but does not spell out the process by which those things can be done. “This poses a tremendous handicap to the commission,” the release said.
The commission’s recommendations comes at a time when it is investigating the authenticity of a number of e-mails allegedly written by senior public officials, which point to a criminal conspiracy to pay sums to an unnamed person, to undermine the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the judiciary, and to harm and injure a journalist.