In more fallout over what has come to be known as “e-mailgate”, Trinidad and Tobago bloggers are tracking how the political fracas has affected public perception of the country's Integrity Commission.
Nearly two weeks ago, political blogger The Eternal Pantomime accuses the government of trying to distract the population and discredit the opposition:
The discovery that Rowley and chairman of the IC [Integrity Commission] had a twenty-minute meeting at Gordon’s [Ken Gordon, Chair of the Integrity Commission] private home to discuss whether or not Emailgate was a matter before the IC has played itself nicely into the government’s hands as yet another tool to discredit the validity of the alleged e-mails; and now, to discredit the IC and perhaps avoid going the route of an independent investigation. And while they aren’t in the wrong to question the occurrence of the meeting, the irony of this government querying private meetings is too rich. And it’s so obvious that their tactic will now be to use this meeting to avoid what the public and Opposition has been clamouring for: an independent investigation.
It didn’t take the AG [Attorney General] more than a hot minute after Roodal Moonilal’s announcement of the meeting in Parliament – complete with side (and snide) comments from the PM egging him on – to imply that Chairman Ken Gordon was compromised. And if you have followed the fate of this Integrity Commission it is always mired in mud and controversy…from inception. The Government knows well that the country has little faith in it; and further that UNC [The United Natinal Congress – a political party that is part of the current coalition government] supporters will use any excuse to blame and label anyone and anything as PNM (The people's National Movement, the political party that currently occupies the opposition bench in Parliament]…and so, a private meeting about a public matter between the Opposition Leader and the chairman of the IC takes on a particularly questionable face.
The blogger, Rhoda Bharath, pointed out at least five instances in which the current administration has ignored proper protocol, explaining:
For the last 3 years protocol and good sense have been tossed to the wind, and because there is no Constitutional law that prevents it, the Prime Minister has gotten away with administrative murder.
In contrast, she noted:
Mind you, Gordon and the IC ensured there was an aide memoire that recorded the meeting.
This action may serve as the distinction between a private meeting and a secret one, as its contents were reportedly minuted and submitted to the Commission.
Bharath also made the following prediction:
The AG’s hounding of the Integrity Commission’s Chairman today will have an impact on Emailgate.
Having now raised questions about the integrity of Ken Gordon and the independence of the Commission itself, I feel quite certain that any call for an independent investigation into Emailgate by an Integrity Commission will be shot down by the AG and his government using this meeting as the reason.
In the interim, however, the meeting that she refers to is certainly having an impact on the Integrity Commission. There were soon calls for the commission's Chair to step down. Blogger and political activist Plain Talk was following the story and supported the view that Gordon should resign:
I have nothing but the greatest respect for the Chairman of the Integrity Commission Mr. Ken Gordon, a man who has done such yeoman service for this country we will never be able to thank him enough or to repay him, but this is the irony of the thing – I know in my heart of hearts that I am standing on the same side of this issue that Ken Gordon the man would stand on were he not one of the subjects of this issue.
I trust him to do the right thing which, in this instance, is to step down so as to remove any semblance of corruption from that body.
There were so many things wrong with this meeting that serious consequences HAVE to be the order of the day. It is that breech of transparency…that collapses the thing.
In all things we all must not only remember but insist, that justice must not only BE done, but that it must be SEEN to be done, that is, if it is or real intention to do no harm.
In a follow-up post, the blogger emphasized that:
The issue here comes down to preserving the very integrity of the Integrity Commission, and, as unfortunate a remedy as it may be, that can only be served by the removal of the offending doubt. In that regard, in this instance, if the Chairman refuses to do the right and honorable thing here and step down, it is my view that he should be removed from Office.
As it turns out, Gordon has chosen not to step down. The country's president, in the interim, has named four new appointees to the commission but there has been no statement yet on whether or not a new chairperson will be sworn in along with the new members. Trinidadian diaspora blogger Jumbie's Watch, however, holds out little hope for that outcome, saying:
President Carmona fail[ed] in his first outright challenge (to remove Ken Gordon from the Integrity Commission). I guess the powers he thought he had was (sic) only in his head.
The new members of the Integrity Commission are expected to take the Oath of Office within a few days.