PM blasts UNC, media over Gaspard controversy – NO BEEF WITH DPP

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

NOT ME: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaks to reporters during the post Cabinet press conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s on Thursday. PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE –

THERE is no rift between the Prime Minister and by extension his Government, and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC.

At a media conference on Thursday, Dr Rowley sought to put to bed all the national murmurings that there was some sort of animosity between him and his government and the DPP, over the perceived belief that the rift stemmed because the DPP discontinued criminal proceedings against his political enemies.

Contrary to what he repeatedly regarded as “nonsense” the suggestion of a supposed war between the government and the DPP, Rowley said prior to March 8 when the DPP spoke of staff shortage, there was talk of fixing the problem.

During a radio interview on March 8 Gaspard said his office was hamstrung by “an acute and chronic” staff shortage that affected its ability to prosecute cases in every court in the country.

The interview came two days after he discontinued corruption charges against former prime minister Basdeo Panday, his wife Oma, former government minister Carlos John and businessman Ishwar Galbaransingh.

He said during a radio interview that his office has 58 attorneys, including some with little or no court experience, adding that a 2013 Cabinet note of 2013 proposed the DPP should have 137 attorneys.

A day after, in an apparent response, Rowley, at a political meeting in Barataria said: “None of us in this country have all that we need. But you got to make the most with what you have.”

He then went on to explain that the Cabinet, in seeking to assist the DPP, leased a building in Port of Spain for $600,000 monthly, for three years.

Two days after Rowley spoke, the Attorney General Reginald Armour SC, said the DPP’s office was underperforming and the staff shortage was an excuse.

The three statements prompted the Opposition to accuse the Prime Minister and his government of attacking the DPP. A day before the AG made the claim, Opposition Senator Wade Mark accused Rowley of attacking the DPP supposedly for failing to prosecute his political opponents.

“Is he trying to frustrate Gaspard into leaving the Office of the DPP? What is the objective of the Prime Minister?”

At the UNC’s Monday Night Report on March 20, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said there was a plot to frustrate the operations of the DPP by Rowley and Armour in an attempt to rescue the government from the fallout over the Vincent Nelson matter.

Nelson was the main witness against two PNM political enemies, former attorney general Anand Ramlogan and opposition senator Gerald Ramdeen in a state briefs for cash scam. The DPP discontinued that matter after Nelson said he was no longer testifying because the government reneged on promises made to him.

He is now suing the government for $96 million for supposedly breaching an agreement with him.

“After the DPP discontinued high-profile cases against Ramdeen and Ramlogan and Basdeo Panday, Carlos John and the others in the Piarco matters…All of a sudden this DPP is the worst thing.”

She added: “You really have to wonder if there is a whole conspiracy to run the DPP out of office. Because when you do that, then you can get whoever is your puppet DPP, whoever that maybe will become, you (government) give the instructions.”

Rowley, in addressing this said Nelson is no hero in the country and while the Opposition will want to focus on his indemnity deal signed between him and former attorney general Faris Al-Rawi, the subject of Nelson’s lawsuit, she does not want to highlight that he confessed to be part of a criminal enterprise.

“We only know about Nelson, because Nelson came here and gave chapter and verse about stealing public money in this country with the assistance of other people. He got himself, arraigned, convicted and sentenced and somehow the opposition leader wants us to forget that.”

Rowley further explained that all the claims made by the Opposition since he spoke were nowhere close to the truth and chastised the media for allowing the Opposition to paint such a narrative unchallenged. He spent several minutes chastising in particular a newspaper for publishing an editorial that fuelled the notion of a supposed rift.

To drive home the point that there is no animosity between the government and the DPP’s office, the Prime Minister said prior to all the public comments he and Armour had discussed hiring attorneys from outside of the country to assist with his staffing concerns.

“Before this whole thing erupted two weeks ago, in the last month, I’ve actually met with the Attorney General right here. One of the issues we dealt with as fate would have it, knowing that that office of the DPP has the constraints of getting the quality of staff that you require to prosecute.”

He said good lawyers were not leaving their lucrative private practices for “government pittance” and newly graduated attorneys lack the necessary experience to prosecute matters. The alternative was to look outside of the country to meet the need.

“We sat down and we discussed that maybe the time has come for us to look outside of Trinidad and Tobago to bring in whether it’s six or eight or 10 or 12 lawyers to put them in the DPP’s office, where they will arrive with the necessary experience. And because I know how these things go, I instructed the Attorney General, after we agreed that this is a direction that we should go, take no action until you have spoken to the DPP. This was a week or two before all of this became public.”

Rowley said he advised that the Armour speak with the Commonwealth Secretariat to fill the gap. He said the more on this will be discussed further. When asked about using local senior attorneys, Rowley said there was the issue of conflict where many of the reputable private attorneys are defending the very people the DPP is prosecuting.

He said the “mutterings” of a plot to undermine the DPP’s office are unsubstantiated falsehoods. He said as PM there is nobody’s interest that he holds that would make him be afraid of the DPP and they want to oust him.

“That problem (of being afraid of the DPP) lies with the leader of the UNC. Every time they see a motorcar pass with a blue light flashing or they hear somebody say good morning with a knocking on the door, they think is the police. We don’t have that problem in the PNM.”

Rowley said the narrative of the tiff is to prevent the government from going after white collar crime adding that the Whistle-blower legislation will be returning to Parliament soon to assist with that and is hoping for Opposition support.

“There is nobody in my Cabinet who has issues with the criminal department of the state. None!”