Thursday, March 21, 2013

Seeparsad-Bachan: Anil Must Demit Office Pending Probe by DPP

Sport Minister Anil Roberts must demit office pending a probe by the Director of Public Prosecutions into allegations of misbehaviour in public office levelled against him. This is the view of Congress of the People chairman Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan and former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas yesterday.
The Integrity Commission last week referred Roberts, his permanent secretary Ashwin Creed and special adviser to the T&T Boxing Board of Control (TTBBC), Boxu Potts, to DPP Roger Gaspard, in relation to a complaint of alleged misappropriation of funds at the TTBBC relating to several events, in particular a $1.9 million boxing card put on by Potts’ son Giovanni.

The complaint was filed in 2011 by former TTBBC board member Ricardo Phillip, who was fired two days after he refused to support approval of the card for Potts’ son. Speaking about the development yesterday, Seepersad-Bachan said: “I take very seriously this matter where ministers are required to answer to any charges of corruption or conflict of interest involving their ministries or agencies that report to them.

“In such a case, they ought to step aside to facilitate the investigations, any form of investigations being carried out by the DPP,” she added. Noting that the matter was of a serious nature, Seepersad-Bachan said she consulted with political leader Prakash Ramadhar on the matter yesterday and a party decision was taken to meet with Roberts before any pronouncement was made on the matter. As such, they have summoned Roberts to an emergency meeting tomorrow.

“I have directed the general secretary to send a letter on my behalf to Mr Roberts, requesting him to attend a meeting to discuss the matter by Friday, so that we can hear his side before we make any pronouncement on the matter,” she said. “It is a very serious matter and we cannot have different strokes for different folks. We did have such a situation with former government minister Mary King and you will note what happened in that situation. They moved very swiftly for that one, and we also want to move very swiftly with this one.

“However, in accordance with the principles of natural justice we felt it was important that we gave Mr Roberts a hearing.” Dumas, too, suggested that the appropriate thing was for Roberts to step aside pending the outcome of the probe. “Although the minister has not been charged, and may not be, in the interest of transparency he should step aside until the matter has been dealt with and he is cleared,” he said.

“While there is no legal obligation for him to step aside, it is with keeping in good ethics that he should demit office until all issues surrounding the matter in question are clarified.” On the issue of whether the investigation poses another creditability issue for the Government, political scientist Dr Bishnu Ragoonath said: “Of course, the Government is facing serious other challenges in terms of questions pertaining to transparency and accountability, many of which are left unresolved.

 “Among them are the ways ministers respond to issues, all of which seem to be challenging the Government in relation to credibility issues,” he said. “The issues have all come to the fore and are undermining the stability of the Government and this is yet another issue where a minister has seemingly gone in contravention of good governance practices.”

Ragoonath said in spite of the allegations, he does not expect that Roberts will step down from his ministerial portfolio. “The position taken with all the allegations so far is that no one is voluntarily stepping aside and I do not believe this case would be any different,” he said. “However, because of the moral position the COP has taken I believe the political party would recommend for the minister to step aside until the investigations are completed.”

Anil: I have no case to answer
Commenting on the matter yesterday, Roberts said he was not unduly worried by the referral of the matter to the DPP’s Office, noting he was certain he did not have a case to answer. He also disclosed he was seeking legal advice on the matter. 

Meanwhile, the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday issued the following statement on the issue: “The PM respects the independence and integrity of DPP and Integrity Commission and therefore due process must take its course with regards to the allegations and the investigations into them by both agencies.” Telephone calls and messages sent to Creed were unsuccessful yesterday.


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