By SEAN DOUGLAS Saturday, March 9 2013
THE new members of the Integrity Commission should be named by incoming President Anthony Carmona, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has advised outgoing President George Maxwell Richards.
Newsday obtained a letter penned by Persad-Bissessar to Richards urging him to defer the choice of new commissioners to President-elect Carmona, a former High Court judge.
Persad-Bissessar has called for this course of action because the term of most commissioners – except chairman Ken Gordon whose term ends next November – ends just three days before Richards demits office, on March 17, meaning he would have little time to scrutinise any new commissioners. Carmona will be sworn in as President on March 18.
The letter titled, “Re: Appointment of Members of the Integrity Commission of Trinidad and Tobago”, was dated March 5, 2013 and bore the seal of the Office of Prime Minister and the signature of Persad-Bissessar.
Persad-Bissessar’s letter was responding to correspondence sent by Richards which she said was brought to her attention on March 4.
In her reply, Persad-Bissessar said the Commission is a key institution that oversees the conduct of public officials and must be backed to do its job in a way to inspire public trust and confidence.
“Given the critical role of this Commission which will have even greater significance as my Government moves decisively to introduce procurement legislation which may well cater for the presidential appointment of a Procurement Legislator, and as well as our contemplation of the creation of an Anti Corruption Agency,” she said, “it is my considered opinion that it may be more prudent and appropriate for the appointment of members of the Integrity Commission for a new term to be left to the discretion of the new President, who is himself well-versed in legal matters.”
Persad-Bissessar said the Commission had been adversely affected by various challenges since 2009, when sitting commissioners have become involved in public controversy including “internecine warfare” acted out in public.
The naming of commissioners has come under intense public scrutiny, she said, because of the resignations due to embarrassing revelations about persons’ characters or their conduct on the Commission.
“There has been grave public disquiet and concern about the process for the selection of commissioners. It is necessary to rebuild and restore public confidence in the Integrity Commission,” she said. “Experience has shown that serious mistakes have been made when new appointments are made in a rushed or hasty manner.”
Persad-Bissessar said many have believed that much of the damage done to the image and integrity of the Commission could have been avoided if proper background checks on prospective candidates were done prior to appointment.
“In this context I note particularly that the term of office of the present Integrity Commission expires only three days before you demit office,” Persad-Bissessar wrote Richards. She said that in 2009, amid much public anxiety when no Commission had been named upon the expiration of the previous one, Richards had said that the appointments must not be rushed.
“I am sure your Excellency would not wish such appointments now, on the eve of a new President being sworn in, to cause undue media and public scrutiny, particularly at a time when you demit office after a decade of outstanding and distinguished service,” she said. “It is not unlikely that such precipitous appointments by you may be interpreted as lacking confidence in our new President, whose selection has been widely acclaimed.”
Great care and attention must be given to the selection of new commissioners soon, said Persad-Bissessar. “To this end, it is imperative that comprehensive background checks and due diligence checks are conducted in relation to any person proposed as candidates,” she said. “This is a process which is unlikely to be completed within the next 10 days before His Excellency demits office and President-elect Anthony Carmona assumes the duties of the President…”
Persad-Bissessar suggested, “Your Excellency may therefore wish to consider whether it would not be more prudent and appropriate for the process of appointment of Members to be initiated or continued by President-elect Carmona when he assumes office.”
Noting that Richards’ term ends on March 17, she said she has no doubt he would give wise counsel on this and other matters to Carmona whom she was satisfied would give priority consideration to making these appointments on taking office on March 18. Constitutional expert, Dr Hamid Ghany, is on record as saying he thinks Richards would be within his full rights to appoint new members to the Commission. Such was done by former President Sir Ellis Clarke in 1987 when he named a new member of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (to replace Noor Hassanali who succeeded Sir Ellis) just four days before leaving office, incurring the ire of then prime minister, ANR Robinson.