Integrity Commission takes legal action against 18 people in public life

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Chairman of the Integrity Commission Prof Rajendra Ramlogan (left), with Compliance Administrator Vanna Gobin (center) and Jessi Geoffroy, the Commission’s Investigations Administrator. – Photo by Joey Bartlett

The Integrity Commission has filed ex-parte High Court action against 18 people in public life seeking to have the courts compel them to obey the law and file their assets, incomes and liabilities.

But this is a drop in the bucket of the number of people who have failed to file their declarations for 2023.

In a statement on Thursday, the commission said a total of 372 people have failed to comply, although their names were published in the newspapers.

A release from the commission said that on November 10, the names of 461 people in public life were published as having failed to declare their assets, incomes and liabilities in keeping with Section 11 (1) of the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA). The list of names was gazetted seven days later.

Since then, the commission said, 89 had voluntarily complied with the law, leaving 372 still to do so.

As a result, the commission said it sent a further warning along with a notice of intention to take ex parte action for the non-filing. This notice was published in the newspapers on November 29.

On January 10 and 11, the commission began ex-parte action against 18 applications, asking the High Court to order people in public life to file their outstanding declarations.

“The commission strongly recommends the voluntary filing of declarations…which would prevent persons in public life from being subject to these court orders, and the requirement to pay costs,” it said in its release.

CONTROVERSY

The commission has been mired in recent controversy since the Prime Minister said he would defend himself against any disinformation used to tarnish his reputation.

A Newsday report published online on January 8 said Dr Rowley made this statement as he responded to a Trinidad Guardian editorial which claimed he never declared the purchase of a townhouse in Tobago to the Integrity Commission.

The Newsday report said a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister on January 8 had said, “Today, January 7, 2024, in its editorial, the Sunday Guardian had this to say, ‘It was regrettable that Dr Rowley has so many assets that he forgot to include a recently purchased townhouse in his declaration.’”

He added, “This is printed and published as a statement of fact after the editor accused me of being ‘shameless’ for having the temerity to defend my reputation from persistent baseless allegations originating from UNC platforms and relentlessly pursued by elements of the Integrity Commission.”

The statement, according to the Newsday report, added that Rowley had said he wanted to make it clear “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.”

His statement rebutting the Trinidad Guardian’s editorial came less than a week after he responded to a statement from the commission about initiating legal action in the High Court to determine the State’s obligation under the IPLA to provide it with adequate financial support.

In a statement on January 2, the commission provided figures to show it received funding of $66,857,170, $83,556,000, $58,561,925, $37,322,550 and $25,650,452 for the periods 2009-2011, 2012-2014, 2015-2017, 2018-2020 and 2021-2023 respectively. The commission expressed concern that it may not be able to effectively function if this trend continues.

But on January 3, the Prime Minister responded, “I permit myself to posit that maybe the issue is far too many ill-advised and politically-motivated investigations have been embarked upon by the Integrity Commission and more circumspect investigations need to be conducted in accordance with the letter and spirit of the act (IPLA).”

This led to both Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally and former police commissioner Gary Griffith condemning Rowley’s statement as an effort to undermine the commission.

In a brief statement on January 4, commission chairman Prof Rajendra Ramlogan told Rowley that the commission’s statement on January 2 was not issued by him but by the entire commission. Ramlogan’s tenure as chairman officially ended on Thursday (January 11). Up to press time, there was no word from government or the Office of the President on whether Ramlogan was replaced – and if so, by whom – or his tenure extended.

IT’S THE LAW

People in public life are required to file declarations of assets, income and liabilities and statements of registrable interest by the deadline of May 31, as stipulated by Section 11 (1) of the IPLA. This section states:

(1) A person shall, within three months of becoming a person in public life, complete and file with the commission in the prescribed form, a declaration of his income, assets and liabilities that exceed $10,000 in value in respect of the previous year and, thereafter, on May 31, in each succeeding year that he is a person in public life, he shall file further declarations of his income, assets and liabilities.”

The section also says the commission can start ex-parte proceedings:

(6) Where a person who is required to do so fails to file a declaration in accordance with this section or without reasonable cause, fails to furnish particulars in accordance with section 13 or fails to file the statement of registrable interests under section 14, the commission shall publish such fact in the Gazette and at least one daily newspaper in circulation in Trinidad and Tobago.

Section 11(7) of the IPLA says:

“The commission may, at any time after the publication referred to in section (6), make an ex parte application to the High Court for an order directing such person to comply with the Act and the Court may in addition to making such an order, impose such conditions as it thinks fit.”