It is most ironic that Attorney General Faris Al Rawi was carded to address an anti-corruption seminar (Thursday) while he is under the national searchlight over the questionable $23 million rental of a family property.
However, the Attorney General has still not dealt with the issue over the Government’s rental of his property at 3 Alexandra Street, St. Clair, at $644,000 a month. Shockingly, the Prime Minister has said nothing about this $23M man in his Cabinet!!! This from a government that pontificates with monotonous frequency about fighting corruption. Rowley must speak on this scandal. It is worth noting that the same Rowley attempted to defend the same Al Rawi within 24 hours of an expose relating to children in possession of guns, the Prime Minister came to the defence of Al Rawi. Today, no such defence.
Al Rawi and his apologists have attempted to throw red herrings since the latest “Farisgate” was revealed by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
Not surprisingly, the Attorney General has sort to disingenuously drag my name into his scandal by stating that “Moonilal was running him down to rent his building”. The AG must know this to be untrue and mischievous. Having spoken to the relevant personnel, I can now indicate that Mr. Al Rawi and his family had been in touch with my former Ministry to have their property rented. The Ministry would have subjected the landlords to the normal process of obtaining statutory approvals, proof of ownership, specifications and rental offer. This is a standard process for all the 100s of property owners who wish to rent to the government. It is not a private arrangement between anyone. The point is that Faris Al Rawi was NOT the Attorney General prior to 2015. As a private land owner, any citizen, including Al Rawi is free to rent to government. In fact this shows that the Partnership government never sort to discriminate against anyone obtaining goods and services from the state because of political affiliation. It must be noted that the former administration did NOT enter into any arrangement to rent Al Rawi’s building and the Cabinet of Kamla Persad-Bissessar did NOT approve such a rental.
Mr Al Rawi also tries to hide behind his assertions that the former administration approved rental arrangements with relatives of sitting Cabinet members. The fundamental difference is that no Cabinet Minister had a direct and personal benefit from such rentals as Al Rawi has admitted to having. The contracts which the Attorney General and the Minister of Public Administration allude to were not approved by Cabinet.
A page from history maybe be useful. Over twenty years ago when a relative of the Attorney General, former Minister Lenny Saith was accused of using his office to secure a loan from the state bank, he had the good sense to put his private matters into a blind trust, as Mr Al Rawi should have done.
A Cabinet Minister must have NO other source of income apart from his salary and any external investment or company cannot be the recipient of state contracts and favors. As I stated in parliament on Friday last, in response to the statement by the Public Administration Minister, this is a most dangerous precedent that the PNM government has taken. It means in the future any Cabinet Minister can declare an interest, recuse himself and secure lucrative state contacts with direct beneficial interest to himself. And then crow about value for money.
Mr. Al Rawi has also attempted to hide behind a fig leaf that he recused himself during the Cabinet’s deliberations on the property rental.
This is disingenuous since the office of Attorney General is a constitutional requirement in the composition of a Government. Who therefore acted as Attorney General in his absence? And is this gazetted? Or was the Cabinet illegally constituted which would render the decision null and void?
In addition, as Attorney General, Mr. Al Rawi has the power and authority to take action, civil or otherwise, against an errant Cabinet minister.
How could Mr. Al Rawi properly and dispassionately exercise such functions when he relies on the same ministers for personal favours? He has compromised himself and his most critical office.
How could such Cabinet members not be expected to vote in favour of Mr. Al Rawi’s personal interest if he holds such supervisory and legal authority over them? The Attorney General has surrendered his moral authority and is now at the mercy of his Cabinet colleagues who handed him a $23 M rental deal. In this sordid affair, all Cabinet members are culpable. Like the fabled Agatha Christie novel “Murder on the Orient Express” all the suspects are guilty!!!
In addition, it is a cornerstone of good governance that an Attorney General, or any other Minister, must always ensure that his privileged access to power is not abused for personal gain.
All Cabinet ministers must perform their official duties free of undue influence from financial or business interest outside of Parliament.
There have also been misguided and devious attempts the discuss the market rate of the rented property. The issue is not whether the Attorney General got a steal of a deal for the government but whether he steal? The issue is not warehouse price or skyscraper price, it should be no price! So it’s not about whether the government paid $14 or $7 or $1 a sq foot, it is about breaking the law.
The issue is not about price but about a deeply flawed process relating to the Attorney General leasing his property to the Government of which he is an integral and powerful member.
Mr. Al Rawi should cease attempting to shield behind smokescreens and diversions on a critical issue that pertains to integrity in public office.
He should have utilized his “Crackdown on Corruption” speaking opportunity to provide the raw facts on yet another public matter that questions his suitability for public office.
The parliamentary Opposition again calls on the Police Service and the Integrity Commission to properly and urgently investigate the Government’s dubious rental of Mr. Al Rawi’s property.
The Integrity Commission should also pronounce on Mr. Al Rawi’s fitness to continue to serve as Trinidad and Tobago’s Attorney General.