Prime Minister: I will defend myself against disinformation

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley –

THE Prime Minister said he would defend himself against any disinformation used to tarnish his reputation.

Dr Rowley made this statement in response to a daily newspaper editorial which claimed that he never declared the purchase of a townhouse in Tobago to the Integrity Commission.

In a statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister on Monday, Rowley condemned the editorial in which the allegation was made.

“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.”

Initially, Rowley said, he contemplated ignoring the editorial and its contents.

He later decided that he would not. “No chance. I intend to stick with the facts of every situation and defend myself at every turn, regardless of the source or station.”

Rowley said, “What is regrettable is that a national newspaper could so recklessly tamper with a person’s reputation by publishing disinformation which has, as its only purpose, providing support for lies told in the political arena.”

He said what was “shameless” was that this disinformation in an editorial was published “in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary, in the public domain, even in the files of the said newspaper.”

Rowley said he wanted to make it 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.”

He said it was common knowledge that the day after the UNC first made this allegation in 2021, he called a news conference and produced his 2019 declaration statement to the commission to show that he declared ownership of any and all townhouses.

“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.”

Rowley said, “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 due to this, he appeared before the media a second time to clarify the matter.

Rowley reiterated that Form B requires a declaration of land (without buildings) while Form A requires a declaration of real property (“including apartments and townhouses”).

In this second press conference, he continued, the proof was presented to the media in the form of access to a document sent to the Cabinet by the commission, requesting that the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA) be amended to allow for the prescribed Form B to require property other than land to be included on Form B.

Rowley said, “Since this has not been done to date, then my public argument and factual presentations stand unchallenged by the Integrity Commission.”

He added that he was subjected to two to three years of “investigations” surrounding this matter.

“Arising out of all of it, on June 29 2023, the Integrity Commission, finally, issued a letter of termination reporting that it has found me to have broken no law nor was I found to be in breach of the IPLA.”

Rowley said the UNC protested the commission’s findings.

“On November 23, 2023, the Integrity Commission reversed its termination of June 29 and reopened, and even broadened, its investigations.”

Rowley said he was informed by his attorney on December 29 that this investigation was concluded.

He rejected any argument which suggested he did not defend himself and his reputation from disinformation.

Rowley said his objection to such disinformation is not an attack on the commission or an attempt to place himself above the law.

His statement comes six days after he responded to a statement issued by 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 its 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.

In his response on January 3, Rowley said, “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 (ILPA).”

Rowley was accused by former police commissioner Gary Griffith and Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally of attempting to undermine the commission.

In a brief statement on January 4, commission chairman Prof Rajendra Ramlogan advised Rowley that the commission’s statement on January 2 was not issued by him but by the entire commission.

“I have no such statutory or other authority or power as chairman to issue any press release on behalf of the commission unilaterally.”

Ramlogan did not comment on anything else Rowley mentioned in his January 3 statement.

His tenure as commission chairman ends soon.