Imbert rejects Kamla’s claim of ‘sham probe’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of Finance Colm Imbert – Angelo Marcelle

FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert stood by his decision to name a team to do an internal probe of the imbroglio over Auditor General Jaiwatee Ramdass’ late receipt of the public accounts, rejecting Opposition criticism, as he addressed Thursday’s post-Cabinet briefing at Whitehall, Port of Spain.

Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar was reported on Thursday as dubbing the investigation a “sham” exercise by a “hand-picked” team to allow Imbert to be “judge, jury and executioner” in the matter. Retired judge David Harris heads the team.

Both Houses of Parliament – with Opposition dissenting – recently voted to allow more time for submission of the public accounts and Auditor General’s report on them, following the Government’s late discovery of a $2.6 million surplus due to a Central Bank error. Attorney General Reginald Armour told Parliament the Ministry of Finance’s permanent secretary, Treasury director and comptroller of accounts had asked Ramdass to receive updated accounts but had met reluctance due to a lack of supporting documents.

Ramdass has filed a lawsuit claiming her office and her character were under attack.

Newsday asked about Persad-Bissessar’s criticism of the probe, to which Imbert replied Newsday was being “very generous to nonsense uttered by the Leader of the Opposition.

“It is nonsense because, in the Senate, I said that I am going to conduct an internal investigation, to investigate the facts within the Ministry of Finance. So, who is supposed to pick the team?

“Should I ask the Leader of the Opposition to pick the team? It’s nonsense!”

Imbert said this was not a commission of enquiry.

“And even in a commission of enquiry, the Cabinet selects the members of the commission of enquiry.”

Newsday asked about her call to have the Public Service Commission (PSC) investigate the imbroglio.

“There are two different things here, you know. As Minister of Finance, I have to find out what happened.”

Newsday asked about allegations by attorneys for Ramdass that he as a politician had bullied her as a constitutionally-independent office-holder.

Imbert replied, “You are aware of the term sub judice?”

He said he had seen a constitutional motion filed against the AG.

“I have been sent a copy of it. I have read in the papers what purports to be an account of it, although apparently, at least one newspaper got it wrong, and I am looking at what is in this claim.

“But you couldn’t possibly expect me to come here in public on a microphone and respond to a claim that is before the court. You can’t be serious.”

Newsday said Ramdass’ legal action was against the AG so Imbert was not a party and could comment.

Imbert replied, “As I said in the Senate, I didn’t come in town last, you know. The person who heads Freedom Law Chambers (attorneys for Ramdass) is somebody called Anand Ramlogan.

“I am not stupid. Do you think I am going to say something here to get a pre-action letter tomorrow? Come on, Sean! Do better than that.”

Imbert said he has already received separate reports from the Central Bank and the Board of Inland Revenue on the accounts to be subjected to the internal investigation.

Earlier, Imbert at length, repeated his previous denial of allegations that an updated set of public accounts sent by his ministry to Ramdass had been backdated from April to January.

He said whoever was collating documents to send to Ramdass had inadvertently included an unsigned copy of incorrect data, although the corrected data was also in the package sent.

Asked about $784 million unaccounted for even in the updated data, he attributed this to tax refund cheques issued in 2022 but cashed in 2023. “It is not missing at all.”