Integrity Commission stands by statement on PM’s townhouse probe

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. –

THE Integrity Commission has said it stands by a statement it issued on Tuesday about why it terminated an investigation into a complaint over the Prime Minister’s purchase of a townhouse in Tobago.

The commission also disclosed it submitted a note to Cabinet on February 9, 2022 for the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA) to be amended to deal with complaints similar to the one raised against Dr Rowley.

That note contained a proposed amendment to the IPLA that failure to disclose information in a statement of registrable interest (Form B) should be considered an offence under the act.

The commission said it has not received a response from the Government on this note as yet.

In a statement on Wednesday, it expressed concern about a daily newspaper’s editorial which called on it to explain this matter.

The commission observed this editorial was published the day after it released a five-page statement “to media professionals of all the daily newspapers.”

The commission was surprised the statement did not make its position clear on its investigation into Rowley’s statutory filings in 2019 and the call for further clarification of its position.

“It must also be understood that persons in public life are expected to familiarise themselves with the requirements of the IPLA.”

The commission added that it has has made presentations on these matters when required, to bodies falling under its purview.

Pointing out that sections 11-22 of the IPLA deal with financial disclosures, the commission said, “Section 11 creates the duty on the part of persons in public life to furnish declarations of their income, assets and liabilities.” This is done with the use of Form A.

Section 11 further empowers the commission to seek an ex-parte order from the High Court to compel such filing.

The commission can examine filed declarations of income under section 13 of the IPLA.

Section 14 (3) of the act directs people in public life to provide certain information on interests registered with the commission. These interests are listed on a document called Form B.

They include “any other substantial interest whether of a pecuniary nature or not, which he considers may appear to raise a material conflict between his private interests and his public duty.”

While Rowley’s non-disclosure of the townhouse on Form B was a breach of section 14 (3), the commission said sections 15 and 16 “provide for the further inquiry into declarations of income, assets and liabilities (Form A) through the establishment of a tribunal and the powers of such a tribunal.”

But these sections do not extend the power of such a tribunal to issues arising out of a statement of registrable interests on Form B.

Under these circumstances, the commission said, it cannot refer a failure to disclose information on Form B to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), and no such referral has been made.

The statement on Tuesday was in response to a signed pre-action protocol letter, dated August , to the commission’s registrar from attorneys for UNC activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj.

In that letter, Maharaj claimed Rowley had breached the IPLA by not listing the townhouse on his list of registrable interests (Form B) with the commission and the townhouse was a gift.

The commission was given a deadline of 4 pm on August 17 to respond to the letter or Maharaj’s attorneys would initiate legal action against the commission.