Integrity body to defend decision to end probe against PM

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. – File photo by Ayanna Kinsale

THE Integrity Commission now has to defend its decision to terminate an investigation against the Prime Minister relating to the purchase of a townhouse in Tobago.

On Thursday, a High Court judge gave permission to political activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj to pursue a claim against the commission and declarations that the decision to terminate its investigation of the Prime Minister and/or refuse to open it was illegal, unfair, unreasonable and irrational.

The decision came days after the commission came under fire from the Prime Minister after it filed a lawsuit seeking clarity from the court over its funding. The PM accused the commission of engaging in “far too many ill-advised and politically motivated investigations.”

Maharaj also wants the court to declare that the decision to reject his complaint against Rowley was unlawful and that the decision that the Prime Minister was not required to include a statement providing particulars of a gift in the form of a discount under the Integrity in Public Life Act was also illegal. He wants the court to send back his complaints to the commission for reconsideration.

Leave was granted by Justice Devindra Rampersad on January 11. The matter has been adjourned for a case management hearing on February 23.

The Integrity Commission has investigated two previous complaints over Rowley’s purchase of a townhouse in the Inez Gate development in Tobago, from contractor Allan Warner.

The first complaint was by UNC MP Saddam Hosein in 2021 on an alleged failure by Rowley to declare his ownership of the property on one of the forms and the discounted price.

In June 2023, the investigation into that complaint was discontinued by the commission. Maharaj challenged the decision to end the investigation and the commission, in September 2023, resolved not to reopen it.

It also informed Maharaj that there were no reasonable grounds to draw the inference that Rowley knowingly made a false statement on the estimated value of the townhouse, rejecting any insinuation of political bias. On the Prime Minister’s omission to declare the townhouse on the Form B of his declaration, only the Form A, was also challenged by Maharaj as well as a failure to disclose a discount he received on the purchase.

A section of the Inez Gate condominiums, at Shirvan Road, Mt Pleasant, Tobago. –

Again in August 2023, Maharaj made a new complaint, critiquing the investigative process and in November he was told it was rejected although the commission determined Rowley had received a discount amounting to a gift but it was not connected with the performance of his duties as prime minister.

With his complaints being rejected, Maharaj approached the court challenging the commission with six complaints. His application provided copies of deeds registered to Rowley, his wife Sharon, and another to his daughter Sonel, who also purchased another townhouse in the development.

Maharaj said he also sought information from the Board of Inland Revenue and the Commissioner of Valuations as well as copies of all contracts between Warner or the Warner Group of Companies from the Tobago House of Assembly and Udecott.

The application alleged people outside both entities were appraised of his requests for information and said he has received no response from either in breach of the Freedom of Information Act.

“From all sides, the applicant has been denied information…” However, he said the commission had the power and resources to procure the information but “prefers to sit and twiddle its thumbs…”

In November 2023, Maharaj said he received two letters from the commission. Both were dated November 24.

In the first, the commission again said while Dr Rowley did receive a gift in the form of a reduction of the price for the townhouse, it was not received because of his duties as prime minister and there was no need for him to disclose it on his Form A. In the second letter, which “centred around a possible conflict of interest due to the receipt of contracts by companies associated with Mr Warner and his alleged role as a financier of the PNM, the commission said a sufficient basis had not been provided to pursue the matter.

Maharaj also complained of the commission’s failure to make a report to the DPP.

On November 23, the commission reportedly wrote to the Prime Minister informing him of another probe involving Warner.

On January 7, Rowley spoke of the commission’s investigations in a Facebook post criticising a newspaper editorial.

“I want to make it abundantly clear that, at no time, did I or any person acting on my behalf, including my attorneys, ever advance, anywhere, that I did not include my townhouse in my declaration and further that this occurred because I forgot to do so.

“On the contrary, it is common knowledge, that the day after the UNC made the allegation, in 2021, that I had a townhouse that I failed to declare to the Integrity Commission, I called a press conference and produced my declaration of 2019 to show that I did declare my ownership of any and all townhouse/s owned by me.

“This declaration was properly done on the prescribed Form A, as required by law. In the face of this public response to the unfounded allegation, it was then advanced by the UNC and, surprisingly, the Integrity Commission, that it should have been declared on Form B.

“Their ridiculous argument was that since it was declared on Form A and not on Form B then I had not declared it and I was hiding it from the public.”

He said he again appeared in the media to point out that the prescribed Form B requires a declaration of land (without buildings) and the prescribed Form A requires a declaration of real property (“including apartments and townhouses”).

“In this second press conference, the proof was presented to the media in the form of access to a document sent to the Cabinet by the Integrity Commission requesting that the parent act be amended to allow for the prescribed Form B to require property other than land to be included on Form B. Since this has not been done to date then my public argument and factual presentations stand unchallenged by the Integrity Commission.”

Rowley spoke of the previous findings of the commission and said the November probe was also concluded, and on December 29, his attorney was so informed.

He maintained he will continue to defend himself and his reputation from those who thrive on disinformation.