“We are not sleeping on our work. It is unfair especially when criticisms are made in the absence of any details to support it,” Hosein said yesterday.
It was during a radio call in programme on Sunday that Rowley criticised the commission for the length of time which it was taking to investigate allegations made against former housing minister Marlene Mc Donald which led to her dismissal from the Cabinet.
Rowley told i95.5 FM that “in the spirit of integrity in public life when allegations are made against public officials, especially parliamentarians, the Integrity Commission must act expeditiously to deal with those investigations, determine whether there’s a case to answer or whether the person’s name should be cleared and the person continue without a cloud. But those investigations are dragging on too long.”
Hosein, a retired Justice of Appeal, said: “The comments are very unfair and are without any factual basis to support them.
“If anyone is going to criticise and continue to criticise the commission they should try to have some evidence to support it and give us the opportunity to tell them why their proposed condemnation should not be voiced.
“The matters that are being attended to the parties will be aware of what is taking place because they would have been written to, but Section 20 of the Act clearly prevents us from divulging to anyone details of any particular matter. We can’t do that. The parties will know what is taking place.”
Hosein said the commission was “exposed to adverse criticism and slander on no facts,” but he said: “We are not sleeping on any matter that we have on our files but it does take time to investigate because the information and the evidence may not be easily forthcoming.”
He said investigations were “time-consuming and to use the old cliché ‘We don’t have the benefit of low hanging fruit.’”
Hosein was appointed chairman of the commission 18 months ago.
In that time, he said, the commission had stabilised “and ought to be given the opportunity to perform its functions as set out in Section Five without unsubstantiated adverse criticism. That’s all we can do. But we remain focused on achieving what the purpose of the Act intends.”
He said the commission had been “trying desperately to clear the backlog that we inherited and thanks to our staff, particularly those in compliance, we are doing reasonably well but there is room for improvement.”
Under his watch, he said, the commission had introduced outreach programmes. They have already visited Tobago where he said there was 95 per cent compliance with the Integrity in Public Life Act.
“Why can’t we achieve that level of compliance in Trinidad?” he asked. The commission, he said, would be going to San Fernando on September 21.
He said the commission had a team of “courteous, efficient and accessible staff to assist anyone who is having any problems in filing their returns or declaration, if that is done then people would feel more confident in coming forward to serve.”
He advised people in public life to utilise that option, saying he did it years ago when he was required to comply when called to serve on a committee organising world cricket.
Hosein said he had noted a report which quoted the Prime Minister as saying that people were shying away from public service because they wanted nothing to do with the Integrity Commission. He said: “We are not here to catch anybody out. I will not be in any vocation that requires you to catch people out.”
He said what the law required was that people in public life “file a declaration of income, assets and liabilities. If you have difficulties we will assist you. There is no need for anyone to be fearful of the Integrity Commission.”
He said the commission had a number of proposals for amendment to the Act but “I do not share the view that this Act is not workable. We are utilising the provisions which are intended to facilitate our achievement of our objectives. There are provisions in the act which allow it to work and we are utilising those provisions.”
How they investigate
The commission utilises the services of an investigative team, comprising retired police officers, to conduct investigations into matters brought before the commission.
Investigations could appear to take long because of a number of factors, sources said, as investigators did not have police warrants and depended on third party sources and they also have to deal with lawyers who may sometimes make investigations more difficult.
When the investigation is completed a sub-committee reviews the findings and may make recommendations to the commission. The commission reviews and analyses the report and decides whether there is reasonable grounds to refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions or to close the investigation.
The commission is also now for the first time utilising the courts to go after people who fall within its ambit and fail to file declarations. The commission wants the court to order people to file and if not. to face fines or jail time.
Case against Marlene
Mc Donald was fired following allegations that her spouse Michael Carew and his brother Lennox were hired among 13 members of her constituency office over several years in the last term.
It was reported that Michael Carew worked at the office from June 2010 to September 2015, earning the second highest salary of $13,400 monthly for the entire constituency term, while his brother has been working at the office since 2011 and received $14,000 in salary.
It was also alleged that Michael Carew headed the Calabar Foundation which received a $375,000 cheque from the Ministry of Community Development, a ministry Mc Donald then led, even before the foundation was registered.
Rowley vs Integrity Commission
The Integrity Commission collapsed in 2009 when the High Court found that then chairman John Martin had acted in bad faith with Rowley on the Landate affair. This led to a mass resignation of all commissioners.
The High Court ruling found that the commission was guilty of “tort of misfeasance” when it prematurely referred the Landate matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions and as a result all commissioners resigned.
People can stall system—Gordon
Former chairman of the Integrity Commission Ken Gordon, who was Hosein’s predecessor, told the T&T Guardian amendments to the Integrity In Public Life Act were critical to moving the commission forward.
Gordon said a number of recommendations were made and even though they were approved by the commission under his tenure they were never implemented “because the new chairman wanted to review them. That was over a year-and-a-half ago.”
He said the Commission had six investigators when he was chairman “and that was enough. The problem is not the lack of numbers but we got stalled because we did not have the authority in the Act to go further so things came to a halt.”
He feels there are “too many unjustifiable delays. People feel it’s taking too long and sometimes it does.”
Gordon said under his tenure there was a particular matter which required a tribunal being set up, because “if you get to a certain point where people refuse to give information you can recommend to the President that he appoints a tribunal.
“It took one year in the particular matter despite writing to the President, we had the information but we could not get the President (Carmona) to act.”
The matter Gordon referred to involved allegations against former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner over bribes for votes during a Concacaf meeting at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain.
Gordon said the problem “is not so much the people as it is the system. The Act has limitations. The commission is really a toothless tiger. People can stall the system and when you don’t have the authority to deal with it, it drags out.” The “system”, he said, “is sadly in need of an overhaul. It is really a call for action.”
The most critical change, he said, was to “facilitate the investigative process.” He said the Act as it existed “does not spell out how you go about taking the action required and then you have to end up lining up to go to the courts.”
Rowley was eventually awarded $900,000 as compensation.