In Search of Integrity in Trinidad and Tobago

president's house

President's House. Photo by Flickr user globewriter. CC BY-NC 2.0

As difficult as it might be for most Trinidad and Tobago netizens to divert their attentions from the spectacle that is disgraced FIFA bigwig Jack Warner, other political issues have begun to take precedence.

The attempt by President Anthony Carmona to appoint members of the flailing Integrity Commission – allegedly without proper consultation with the opposition leader as is constitutionally required — has prompted concern in the national blogosphere. While Carmona did send the relevant correspondence to opposition leader Dr. Keith Rowley, the latter is arguing he was not given enough time to conduct due diligence on the proposed appointees, and that the process was therefore not truly consultative.

The Integrity Commission, a constitutional anti-corruption organ, has long been plagued, ironically, by a demonstrative lack of integrity.

Scandals at the commission reached their peak in 2009, when Father Henry Charles, a Roman Catholic priest, was one of three members to resign over the course of a week. While Fr. Charles cited a conflict of interest with Canon Law as the reason for his exit, there was actually broad public pressure for him to step down following revelations that he had committed plagiarism.

Like a pack of cards, appointees to the commission have been shuffled around over the years. Most recently, the president accepted the resignations of Justice Sebastien Ventour, who had been the commission's deputy chairman, and Dr. Shelly Anne Lalchan, who was also a member. The two resigned over claims that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had allegedly interfered in the commission's probe into ‘Emailgate’, a scandal in which the government sought to pass legislation that could have spared two of the ruling party's financiers from corruption and money laundering charges.

In this latest debacle, the president, who maintains he followed proper protocol, was forced to defer on naming the two proposed members of the commission until the opposition leader could weigh in.

The president's official correspondence was delivered to Dr. Keith Rowley on June 9; Rowley's office said it was received on June 10, a few days before the would-be-members’ swearing-in was due to take place.

Facebook user Alyson Myers-Capstick, supported Dr. Rowley's stance on the issue, saying:

Very well said Dr. Rowley. Waiting to see if President Carmona does the right thing and allows for time for relevant background checks and consultation.

Also on Facebook, The Eternal Pantomime blog posted:

Do not take this development lightly.
The President's job is to uphold our Constitution.
The Constitution requires that he consult first and appoint only AFTER consultation.
The President waited weeks before hustling a consultation in a few hours.
Is the President [Prime Minister] Kamla's creature?

The blog added:

Without consultation with the Opp Leader the President makes these appointments at 9 and and then flies off to South Africa.

In a hilarious satirical jab, The Late O'Clock News responded with a post that pitted Ian Alleyne, the controversial host of a local TV crime show famous for making morally questionable decisions, as a candidate to the discredited Integrity Commission:

Reports coming in to the Late O’Clock News’ office at this very moment relay a shocking new development. Ian Alleyne, the nation’s self-appointed crime fighter and expert pathologist, has been appointed to the Integrity Commission.

President Anthony Carmona was carded […] to swear in two new members to the Integrity Commission to replace former deputy chairman Sebastian Ventour and member Shelly-Ann Lalchan who both resigned following the end of the Commission’s investigation into ‘Emailgate’. However, Dr Keith Rowley complained yesterday that he was not consulted for the new appointments and demanded that the President scrap and replace the entire Commission since their handling of the Emailgate investigation came under suspicion.

President Carmona, being a man of integrity himself, said it ‘honestly slipped my mind. I completely forgot that I had to consult the Opposition Leader about these new appointments. You all have to forgive me, I am doing so much work it is easy to forget things sometimes.’

The post continued:

President Carmona said that choosing Ian Alleyne to be on the new Commission was not the ideal decision. Avoiding eye contact for the entire interview, the President said, ‘After going through the entire list, we had one more page left. We turned the page, and there was one name remaining. Only one […] Ian. Who has done more for the country that Mr Ian Alleyne? Not even I have.’

‘I hope that Ian and the new appointments carry on the Commission's legacy of wasting paper on meeting minutes and letters of resignation,’ said the President.

Dr Rowley quipped: ‘The Integrity Commission has a higher staff turnover than Curepe KFC. If Mr Alleyne does not come through for us, we would have to start recycling people like Fr Henry Charles.’

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