‘I STUCK TO THE LAW’ – PM defends filings to Integrity Commission

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Dr Keith Rowley –

THE Prime Minister on Thursday alleged that the Integrity Commission’s failure to state that he had obeyed the integrity laws had paved the way for the UNC to claim he had failed to publicly declare his ownership of a townhouse at Inez Gate in Tobago. Ahead of Monday’s local government elections, he alleged the UNC was continuing its habit of trying to scandalise his name at election time, following similar allegations that he had violated the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA) levelled in the last Tobago House of Election (THA) campaign.

He was addressing a post-Cabinet briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, to respond to a UNC briefing on Wednesday where Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein urged the Integrity Commission to send its information on his townhouse to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to decide if to vent the matter in court. Asked generally about his property ownership, the PM said he and his wife owned nothing they had not worked hard for, on top of him inheriting his grandfather’s land.

The UNC had complained that in his declaration of assets to the Integrity Commission, Rowley had failed to declare the townhouse under “land” on form B, a statement of registrable interests available for public viewing, while he had declared it only on form A, the confidential declaration of income, assets and liabilities.

A recent statement by the Integrity Commission said the PM “had failed to include particulars of the said townhouse in his statement of registrable interests for the said year, which constituted a breach of the IPLA, (but) it was not a breach or an offence which could be referred to the DPP.”

However, he said he did not view that statement as having done him any favours.

Rowley said he had recently been pilloried in the media and accused of criminal conduct, but he would not allow anyone to fool the population. He said it was Parliament and no one else who decided which assets of someone should be on a public form (form B) and on the “not public” form (form A).

He said the commission in its 2018 proposal for amendments had suggested that “buildings” be added to the “land” to be listed in form B, and this was proof they knew that it was therefore not included at this time.

“An Integrity Commission is supposed to have integrity.

“All of this could have been avoided if the Integrity Commission had told the population that I did disclose (the townhouse) in my declaration (form A) and that form B does not require a disclosure, and they have made proposals to Cabinet to have buildings disclosed in form B.”

He blamed the commission for letting the UNC level allegations against him.

Rowley added, “Because people have their own agendas, I am the subject of what happened yesterday (Wednesday) where two MPs could call a press conference to call me a criminal for submitting my declarations as per the prescribed form.

“I just want to advise the media: Don’t let them carry you where they are going, because from today anybody else who accuses me of not disclosing to the Integrity Commission, I will sue you to the ends of the Earth.”

Of form A, he said, “This is a prescribed form and nobody could issue an instruction to change what is on this form.”

If anyone wished to deem “land” to mean all property, they would have to go to Parliament to do that, he said.

Commenting on the Integrity Commission’s submission to Cabinet to change “beneficial interest in land” on form B to also include “or building”, Rowley said, “It is simply a proposal. Parliament has not done that.”

He said it was crystal clear that buildings were not now required to be listed on form B.”I’m up to date with my submissions,” he declared.

Rowley said the Integrity Commission’s proposal to change the law to add buildings to what must be declared in form B, meant they knew he had not violated the act. Waving the commission’s proposal document, he said, “How come they could have had this in their possession acknowledging that form B does not call for buildings and you could persecute me and have the UNC persecuting me about not putting buildings on form B?”

He opined, “This Integrity Commission legislation, if we are not careful will ensure people of integrity will stay away from public service.”

Rowley viewed the matter as “an election wedge issue” coming ahead of Monday’s election.

He recalled personal allegations made against him and his father in 2015, integrity allegations in the last THA election, and a female reporter whom he alleged had once been sent to his home to accuse him of sexual misconduct.

Newsday asked Rowley if confusion had arisen due to a conflict between form B with the Valuation of Land Act 1969, now the basis of the Property Tax Act, whose definition of land actually includes “all buildings or any part of any building.”

The Integrity Act in its preliminaries has no definition of “land,” and likewise its list of nine items under the statement of registrable interest includes a “beneficial interest held in any land” but does not define “land” as including or excluding built structures (section 14(3)(e)).

The instructions to complete the declaration forms on the Integrity Commission’s website says “disclose particulars of all land and buildings (including townhouses and condominiums), but says this reference to Land and Buildings is Item 1.1 on page 9, a clear reference to form A not form B which is only five pages long.

Newsday called the Integrity Commission and a young woman said call back on Friday at 8 am.