PRESSURE mounted on the chairman of the Integrity Commission Ken Gordon and on Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley yesterday in the wake of confirmation that both men held a secret meeting, on May 15, at the private residence of Gordon – mere days before Rowley went to Parliament to call on Gordon to probe a series of purported emails implicating the highest levels of the Government.
A former member of the Integrity Commission described the meeting as “improper”; said Gordon’s conduct was “seriously ill-advised” and in violation of the statutory procedures and practices of the Commission; and pointed to the timing of the meeting.
Government ministers — in a break from a Cabinet policy of avoiding open criticism of the Integrity Commission — also criticised both men.
Government Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal described the meeting as “utterly improper and unethical”, while Attorney General Anand Ramlogan called on Gordon and Rowley to immediately clear the air or face further action, calling the meeting, “incredible”.
The Integrity Commission, in an aide memoire released on Thursday – —and exclusively reported on by Newsday yesterday — confirmed the meeting.
Rowley, in an interview yesterday, corroborated the meeting and further admitted to seeking information from Gordon over whether a matter was before the Commission at the same private meeting at Gordon’s home on Newbury Hill, Glencoe.
“I wanted to establish whether the matter was the subject of an investigation by the Commission,” Rowley said. He argued the meeting did not represent, “anything sinister.” Yet many yesterday disagreed with Rowley’s assessment.
The former member of the Commission — who remains active in judicial and legal circles and did not want to be named for this reason — said the meeting should never have taken place.
“Where you hold a position which may be regarded as judicial or quasi-judicial you have to be extremely careful,” the former member said. “On balance, the chairman should have said no to this meeting. What this meeting does is create a suspicion of an implied bias in some way. It was a deeply ill-advised meeting, whether entered into innocently or not, given the nature of the positions held by both gentlemen. It is worse when we consider that there remains the live prospect of issues involving Rowley — a person in public life — which may come up for deliberation by Gordon.”
“The other issue here is the timing of this meeting,” the former Commission official said. “The way it occurred just before Rowley made a call for investigation by the Commission, the same Commission of which Gordon is chairman. This can only raise suspicions of some sort of collaboration and deepen possible perceptions of bias.”
The former official pointed to a further problem with the meeting.
“There is a procedural issue here too,” he said. “If you want to find out about some matter that is related to the Commission the proper procedure would be to write to the Registrar and seek the information you require.
The Registrar is the proper authority through which members of the public or persons in public life are to communicate with this body. Procedural propriety requires this. It is inappropriate to deal directly with the chairman in this way.”
“You have to draw the line between what is professionally proper and what is socially acceptable. This could give the impression that the leadership is accessible and biased in some way,” the former Integrity Commission official said.
Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal said if the meeting was meant to deal with Commission business, “then it really was inappropriate.”
“It should really have taken place at the official office where the required safeguards would have been present,” she said. Senior Counsel Stanley Marcus said the circumstances certainly call for further explanation. “We need know more here,” he said.
But Moonilal, who first raised the question of the meeting in Parliament on Thursday, said the work of both offices was clearly undermined.
“It is utterly improper and unethical for the Leader of the Opposition to be meeting privately or secretly with the chairman of the Integrity Commission at the chairman’s home,” Moonilal said.
“I recall that after speaking for 150 minutes in Parliament during his no-confidence motion, the Leader of the Opposition did not mention once that he met privately or secretly with the chairman of the Integrity Commission.”
Moonilal said if a meeting was in fact necessary, it should have been held at the proper office.
“Such meetings, where they are deemed necessary must be held in the appropriate office of office-holders and during proper business hours,” Moonilal said. “This is not an accidental meeting at a cocktail reception or at the 18th hole of the Moka Golf Course. This is a pre-determined meeting.” He called for a full explanation from Rowley.
“I therefore call on Dr Rowley to give a full explanation as to the need for such a meeting and the nature of the discussion,” Moonilal said. “Meetings like these and particularly one that involves the head of a fiercely independent institution as this should not be clothed in secrecy. That undermines the work of both offices.”
Ramlogan yesterday said the picture painted by the timing of the meeting raised serious questions and called for explanation.
“I want to know everything,” Ramlogan told the media at a press conference held at his offices at Cabildo Chambers, Port-of-Spain.
In an earlier interview with Newsday, Ramlogan said the office of the chairman had been brought into disrepute and said the timing of the meeting meant the pieces of “a jigsaw puzzle” were coming together.
“Why did Dr Rowley make such a request for a meeting of the chairman in the first place? Why did he not write?” Ramlogan said. “Why did he not pursue an official channel of communication? Why did he not make a request of the Registrar? Why did he go in the darkness of night and in such stealth and in such a surreptitious manner? The clandestine nature of this meeting is bound to raise more questions and suspicions.”
He continued, “It really does require an explanation. I think the public is owed an explanation and certainly, if one is not forthcoming, some action might have to be taken. But one would hope that some explanation is coming.” He did not say what action would be taken.
Ramlogan noted the meeting came just before Rowley made email allegations in his motion of no-confidence on May 20.
“It is a matter of grave concern that the Honourable leader of the Opposition would have met with the chairman of the Integrity Commission on the eve of the no-confidence motion involving the bogus email documents,” Ramlogan said. “At the material time what would have been the purpose of the meeting? Given the scandalous nature of the allegations later made by Rowley, this meeting has in fact brought the office of the chairman into disrepute and raised serious questions about the integrity of the office of the chairman of the Integrity Commission.”
The Attorney General said the fact that the Commission was and is not completely constituted (the commissioners’ terms of office ended in March) raised further questions over Gordon’s powers and cast doubt over any rationale for the meeting at Glencoe. “The Commission must have a quorum and a quorum is a chairman or a deputy chairman and at least two members,” Ramlogan said. “So the chairman by himself has no powers under the Integrity in Public Life Act to investigate anything or do anything so that he cannot unilaterally act,” Ramlogan said. “So in the absence of the ability to exercise the powers given by the law to the Commission once it is duly constituted what would have been the point? Has this courtesy of meeting at one’s home been extended to other persons who are subject to the Integrity in Public Life Act? So given all of these factors combined the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle does not paint a nice picture at all.”
Ramlogan continued, “It raises all sorts of questions and suspicions and it is bound to give rise to unseemly conspiracy theories. So I think both parties will now have to come clean and give an explanation as to why that meeting took place. I will ask both Mr Gordon and Dr Rowley to come clean.”
Ramlogan said it was a “sacred principle” that the Integrity Commission take an “arm’s length approach” to matters before it.
“It is a sacred principle that the Integrity Commission must maintain an arm’s length relationship with anyone who is a complainant or who is going to be the subject of an investigation,” Ramlogan said. “It must follow the procedures that are set out in the Integrity in Public Life Act. The procedures there are very clear. If you have a complaint to make, you make it in writing and you send it to the Commission, to the Registrar of the Commission. When the Commission receives that, it triggers a process which is all spelled out in the law. When Parliament passed the Integrity in Public Life Act it did not envisage or legislate for someone who wants to make a complaint that they could go to the chairman’s home and share a drink and make a complaint orally. That is incredible.” Read More