Integrity Commission chairman denies ‘tainted’ appointment claims: ‘I don’t see it’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Integrity Commission chairman Haydn Gittens as he received his instruments of appointment from President Christine Kangaloo on January 12. – Photo courtesy Office of the President

Newly-appointed chairman of the Integrity Commission Haydn Gittens is dismissing opposition concerns that he is compromised and unsuited to hold office based on claims he has connections with members of the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM).

“How does that compromise my position? I don’t see it,” Gittens said on Thursday, in response to the Opposition’s claims of nepotism because he lives next door to the Speaker and her husband, and once worked at the same bank as one of the President’s brothers.

The United National Congress (UNC) escalated its concerns over what it believes is the “tainted” appointment of Gittens as chairman, calling for him to come clean about his ties to government officials or resign.

At the core of the party’s argument is that Gittens lives next to Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George and her husband, Paria Fuel Trading Company chairman Newman George.

However, speaking at a UNC press conference at its Mulchan Seuchan Road headquarters in Chaguanas on Thursday, Opposition Senator Wade Mark questioned another relation.

Appointed to head the commission by President Christine Kangaloo, Mark said Gittens worked alongside one of her brothers during his time as a corporate manager at the Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (RBTT, now RBC Royal Bank).

Asked by Newsday if sharing a workplace was strong enough evidence to suggest that Gittens was compromised, Mark said, “Why he didn’t come and tell…Trinidad and Tobago, look I worked for 10 years with this chap.”

Mark further questioned if Gittens would continue his predecessor’s work and investigate a matter involving the Prime Minister and the award of contracts to a man who sold him a Tobago townhouse. Given the chairman’s alleged ties to the PNM, Mark not only questioned his ability to investigate the political leader but also expressed concern if Gittens’ access to sensitive information of political opponents would make its way to Dr Rowley.

“We have a small society…and we have to be extremely careful. We are dealing with people’s lives here. Your assets constitute almost your life. If your assets and your income fall into the wrong hands, you can be murdered in this country,” he said.

“So it is against this background I am saying this is a very sensitive and delicate matter. So there mustn’t be a whiff of bias. There mustn’t be a whiff of cronyism, nepotism, corruption, favouritism. I am saying that the chairman of the Integrity Commission must be like Caesar’s wife, above reproach.”

Contacted by Newsday, Gittens confirmed that he is the neighbour of the Georges and worked with one of the President’s brothers.

“I’ve been living in the house for 20 years this year, except for a period of time that I lived abroad and worked abroad. Yes, one of the President’s brothers was at…RBTT during the time that I worked there, yes, in another area of the bank but yes, he worked there,” he said.

Asked about the UNC’s assertion that these relations should have been made public before taking up the appointment, Gittens said, “I don’t see its relevance. I don’t think there’s a responsibility for me to make public where I live or where I worked previously.”

Asked if he believes these two factors compromise his ability to function independently in his role as the Integrity Commission chairman, he said, “I can’t see a compromise there.”

Gittens was appointed as chairman of the Integrity Commission following the expiry of Prof Rajendra Ramlogan’s term in office on January 11. Exactly one month before, Rowley accused the commission of deliberately attempting to tarnish his reputation after it launched a third investigation with him as the subject.

“The Integrity Commission, acting in concert with others, is deliberately attempting to tarnish my reputation by attempting to find ways to associate me with contracts and awards that I have had absolutely nothing to do with,” he said then.