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Max to act in Integrity impasse
President George Maxwell Richards is set to intervene in the impasse at the Integrity Commission as tension between newly appointed chairman Ken Gordon and deputy chairman Gladys Gafoor has climaxed. Over the last 48 hours, the brewing war heightened leading to a pre-action protocol letter being served to the commission’s registrar Martin Farrell, giving the commission 14 days to rescind the decision requesting Gafoor to recuse herself from a land deal matter involving former attorney general, John Jeremie or redress would be sought via judicial review. It was by letter dated December 31, 2011, Gafoor wrote to the President seeking his intervention in ensuring that the matter was amicably resolved.
The latest development followed one day after Gafoor learnt she was being investigated by the Anti Corruption Investigations Bureau (ACIB) in relation to breach of Section 33 of the Integrity in Public Life Act. A copy of the official police document obtained by Sunday Guardian questions whether Gafoor was responsible for providing a daily newspaper with information relating to the issue. Both Gafoor and commission member Seunarine Jokhoo were asked to recuse themselves from the matter after Jeremie wrote to the commission on November 17, and December 6, 2011, making the request. Sunday Guardian understands that by vote Prof Ann Marie-Bissessar, Neil Rolingson and Gordon agreed that both Gafoor and Jokhoo should recuse themselves from the matter.
Jookhoo acceded to the request, however Gafoor has refused to budge and is questioning the grounds for her recusal. Despite Gafoor’s objection to recuse herself from the matter, in a strange twist—by letter dated December 21—Farrell informed Jeremie that both commissioners would not be deliberating on his matter. The former attorney general was also informed that his investigation would be concluded on or before February 17. The developments have once again caused the commission to become embroiled in controversy that may lead to a legal battle.
Citing grounds for unfair treatment, Gafoor, through her attorney Christlyn Moore, stated that no objection was raised against her since the complaint was lodged at the commission 20 months ago. The issue of Gafoor’s recusal was first raised on December 12, and a decision was taken for a legal opinion to be sought on the matter.
Gordon votes against Gafoor
Whether the legal opinion was sought remains unknown. Further citing grounds for unreasonable treatment, the letter stated: “Without considering the merits of the objection to my client being part of the deliberations to be conducted into the complaint, my client was asked by the chairman both privately and at the subsequent meeting to withdraw upon a vote being taken. My client refused to so withdraw on the expressed basis to the chairman and other commissioners both before and after the vote that this issue could not be determined in this fashion, and that it was at all material times for the person against whom representations were being made to consider as a matter of law whether there was any real basis for the objection.”
Gordon, the letter revealed, did not accede to the request and insisted that the matter could be voted upon by way of resolution. On both occasions Gordon made the casting vote against Gafoor. Gafoor: I will not sacrifice my integrity. Questioning who instructed the registrar to inform Jeremie that both commissioners had opted to recuse themselves from the matter, the letter further stated that on December 31, Gafoor requested that the resolution passed should be vacated. Contending that there are two separate matters upon which the deputy chairman has consistently and at all material times maintained her objection to the request for her recusal, Gafoor outlined the following:
• The matter of her recusal could not be simply voted upon by the commission as a whole
• The merits of the investigated persons objection to her participating in the commission’s deliberations have not been or properly discussed by the commission
Deeming the move as “unlawful”, the letter further stated: “It is clear that the procedure and practice adopted by the sitting chairman on the above issues fails to satisfy the preceding requirements as it is tainted by a lack of consideration of the merits of the objection to the presence of my client regarding the commission’s deliberations in respect of the aforementioned matter, unlawful and arrived at by taking into account matters irrelevant to a fair and proper determination of either the issue of recusal as well as the merits of the objection to my client.” Insisting that all attempts were made to resolve the matter, Gafoor, through her attorney, stated that she is not prepared to sacrifice her integrity and oath of office in order to go along with an approach that is flawed that may lead to the possibility of public ridicule.
Lawyer: Pres has the power to act
Commenting on the development yesterday, a senior legal luminary said the President has the exclusive power to appoint and if it becomes necessary to remove commissioners on the grounds of misbehaviour in public office. The legal source said: “The President has the power to ensure that a commissioner is given by the commission the protection of the rules of natural justice. What this means is if you are asking a commissioner to recuse himself from a matter they must be given a reason because the commissioner like the chairman is entitled to participate in proceedings before the commission. The chairman does not have the power to prevent commissioners from participating in proceedings unless it is established and the commissioner agrees that there is a possible conflict of interest.”
As a matter of law, the legal source added, the chairman is bound and constrained by the Constitution and the law which imposes a fetter on the exercise on his powers which does not allow him the authority to prevent a member from exercising his/her right to participate in deliberating on proceedings before the commission.
Gordon: I did not get pre-action protocol letter
When contacted yesterday, Gordon said he had not yet received the pre-action protocol letter but suggested it may be in the possession of the registrar due to the weekend. On the issue of the police investigation surrounding the ‘leaking’ of information to a daily newspaper, Gordon said: “The matter was reported to the police but I am not aware how they are treating with the matter.” Attempts to reach Gafoor proved futile.
The former attorney general is being investigated for his alleged involvement in the repurchasing of land from former Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls. The complaint was filed by deceased president of the Criminal Bar Association Desmond Allum, SC. Allum had written to the then director of public prosecutions Geoffrey Henderson, calling on him to conduct an investigation into whether Jeremie attempted to pervert the course of public justice or misbehaved in public office arising out of his reported involvement in the re-purchase of land at Millennium Park owned by Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls.
The land transaction was one of the key issues which surrounded complaints against former Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma and attempts to impeach him over allegations that he tried to interfere in criminal proceedings against Prof Vijay Naranysingh and former prime minister Basdeo Panday.
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