UNC activist awaits Integrity Commission reply on PM’s townhouse

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

UNC political activist RAVI BALGOBIN MAHARAJ – Photo by Roger Jacob

UNC activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj is awaiting a response to his pre-action protocol letter to the Integrity Commission about a townhouse in Tobago bought by the Prime Minister.

Maharaj’s attorneys sent the letter to the commission’s registrar on August 3.

On Wednesday, Maharaj told Newsday the commission “wrote to acknowledge the letter but nothing more.”

In a subsequent statement, Maharaj rejected statements Rowley made on the matter.

He repeated his claims that Rowley had breached the Integrity in Public Life Act (ILPA) and that the townhouse was a gift.

In a signed letter dated August 4 to Maharaj’s attorneys, the registrar said, “Please note the pre-action protocol letter is currently engaging the commission’s attention and a response will be given in due course.”

Newsday was told the commission will meet the August 17 deadline given in Maharaj’s letter.

In the letter, Maharaj’s attorneys told the commission that if they receive no response from the commission by 4 pm on August 17, legal action will be initiated.

Rowley has rejected claims by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein and Maharaj that he did not comply with the commission’s requirements for statutory declaration of assets with respect to the townhouse.

On Tuesday, he said, “Contrary to what is being portrayed by persistent misrepresentation that was filled in and submitted by me for 2019, I am making these documents public today so that the national community can judge for themselves…”

On the same day, he posted the five-page declaration of income and assets and liabilities for 2019 he said he made to the commission.

Rowley said the released documents, specifically extracts from the confidential Form A Declaration of Income and Assets and Liabilities for 2019 and Form B Statement of Registrable Interest for 2019 – were submitted by him.

He emphasised there was no requirement on the form to provide details about a townhouse, and the specific section for townhouse and condominium information is found on page 9 of the form.

“Note carefully there is nowhere on this form where one is required to fill in any detail about a townhouse. Note that in Form A it specifically shows where townhouse and condominium is shown (as required by the form on page 9).

He added: “Form B is always open to the public for scrutiny but today I show extracts from the confidential form A so that the lies that are being published and fostered can be rebutted in their totality.”

He said his decision to share these confidential documents is intended to shed light on his compliance with the ILPA and give the public an opportunity to scrutinise the allegations against him.

On Tuesday, Persad-Bissessar was unsatisfied with Rowley’s statements.

She claimed the commission’s decision to end its investigations was a case of institutions failing to hold government accountable

On Tuesday, the commission reiterated there was no merit in the claim that Rowley had failed to declare townhouse ownership to them.

After a thorough investigation in February 2022, the commission said, it was determined that while the prime minister had not included particulars of the townhouse in his statement of registrable interests for 2019, this breach did not warrant referral to the DPP.

The commission emphasised that the investigation solely focused on allegations of a potential gift Rowley had received.

Over the course of a year, the commission said, its investigations unit did a “comprehensive investigation” into the alleged gift (of a discount of $480,000 on the cost of the townhouse) and provided regular reports to the commission.

In June, a final report was reviewed and recommendations from the unit to terminate the investigation were accepted.