Finance Minister: Probe does not affect Auditor General’s status

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Finance Minister Colm Imbert. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

ACTING Prime Minister Colm Imbert on Thursday said the probe into the imbroglio over the submission of the public accounts to Parliament would not affect the person of Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass. He was addressing a post-Cabinet briefing at Whitehall, Port of Spain.

Amid recently admitting a $2.6 billion error in the public accounts for 2023 compiled by the Ministry of Finance, a bill was passed in Parliament to give more time to submit corrected accounts to the Auditor General and the completion of the auditor general’s report.

Imbert on Thursday said Cabinet hoped those submissions would be accompanied by a special report from Ramdass based on the corrected accounts, once submitted.

Despite Ramdass’ objection, Imbert’s attorneys on Wednesday said the investigation – under retired judge David Harris – would continue.

Imbert said the Privy Council – in the 2018 case of the Law Association (LATT) versus Chief Justice – had ruled that an investigation could take place but is not binding on the individuals involved and does not lead to disciplinary action being taken nor removal from office.

In 2018, the Law Lords had rejected Chief Justice Ivor Archie’s challenge to LATT’s probe of his behaviour in office in recommending public housing for certain individuals.

The Privy Council said the investigation could proceed, although its findings would not be binding upon anyone.

Imbert said, “This investigation cannot be binding on anyone. It cannot be binding on any of the public servants involved or the auditor general herself.

“It is simply a fact-finding mission to determine what happened. Once the facts have been established, then other things can be done.”

Newsday asked Imbert about his attorneys’ five-page letter dated May 15 making many references to section 136 of the TT Constitution which states the process to remove the holder of a special office – such as an auditor general – if unable to do their job or for misbehaviour.

He replied, “What it (letter) refers to is the fact that section 136 is not relevant to this investigation at all.”

Imbert said Ramdass’ attorneys had argued that considerations of section 136 meant the investigation could not proceed.

He said, “What we are saying is that this (investigation) has nothing to do with section 136 of the Constitution. Nothing to do with it. Because that section speaks to the removal of the auditor general, it doesn’t speak to an investigation into anything.

“I am a bit surprised at your conclusions, they are opposite to the facts.

“We are saying the contention that section 136 of the Constitution comes into play with respect to the Ministry of Finance’s investigation is wrong because it does not.”

He said section 136 addresses the removal of an auditor general by a presidential tribunal.

“Our investigation cannot and does not and does not even contemplate invoking section 136 of the Constitution.

“Our investigation is just to determine what happened.”

Imbert said no one would want any repeat of the error that led to the imbroglio.

“This is a huge distraction. We have a country to run.

“All of this fighting between public servants about who did what, when, where and how, and who didn’t want to talk to who, and who didn’t take a call from who, and who refused to accept documents, and who made mistakes…

“This is not what the national conversation should be. So we need to fix this.

“The only way we can fix it is to find out what happened, lessons learnt, and corrections going forward.”

Rejecting Newsday’s suggestion that Ramdass might feel intimidated by the investigation, he said, “So are we not to find out what happened?

“We could never correct this and it will happen next year again?

“No way!”