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Again, Integrity Commission? – Trinidad and Tobago Newsday


Reginald Dumas -
Reginald Dumas –

REGINALD DUMAS

AGAIN. For the umpteenth time, the Integrity Commission (IC) is in the news for the wrong reasons. On this occasion, its chairman is accused of abusive behaviour towards staff, many of whom are reported to have been dismissed or to have voluntarily exited an environment deemed “toxic” in search of acceptable climate change. Complaints about the chairman are said to have been made to a wide variety of public authorities, the President and the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) among them.

The chairman is also reproached for claiming higher authority for his actions – it was the President, he is alleged to have often said, who told him to use his management skills and “go and clean up the mess at the commission.” But how?

And he is reported to have abruptly informed a former IC head of investigations that the latter would be replaced because he had been “at the helm of the investigative aspects of the (IC’s) operations during a period when the (IC had) been subject to heavy criticism.” Also, there were several outstanding investigations on the officer’s watch, and an “underlying cynicism” among investigators. The officer concerned is reported as saying that the chairman’s charges were the first he had heard regarding his performance.

In a media response to the above, the IC said it had been reviewing its overall operations with the goal of raising its performance levels, including full compliance with the provisions of the Integrity in Public Life Act. “Change management is never an easy process,” it stated, and there would be people “uncomfortable with change…But change is necessary if improvement is to be made in discharging the Commission’s statutory mandate.” Perhaps, but what I thought I understood was that many members of staff were said to be objecting to the chairman’s conduct, described as “abusive,” and not to the need for change. The media release was silent on this. What is the truth?

The release was also clear that “(n)o member of the (IC) has received directions from anyone, upon taking up (the IC) appointment, as to what he or she is to do, once appointed.” This, however, flies in the face of the charge that the chairman would assure people that the President herself had instructed him to “go and clean up the mess at the (IC).” Who is not telling the truth? In an “Integrity” Commission?

And what of the reported treatment of the former head of investigations? Is it true that the chairman told him he would be terminated even though he had received no prior notice of his alleged failings? Would that be regarded as good management?

The chairman is also reported to have told the same former investigations head that the IC had previously been publicly criticised – in 2015, 2016 and 2020 – by Drs Keith Rowley and Terrence Farrell and by Gerry Brooks. The IC’s recent release also makes reference to Dr Rowley’s unhappiness, though it hastens to add that “(n)o greater weight has been given to (his) views than to those expressed by other concerned citizens over the years.” Why then single him out, I wonder?

I have myself been one of those “concerned citizens.” In 2008, I wrote an article taking the IC and its immediate past chairman to task for what I saw as their clandestine co-operation in a move by then PM Patrick Manning to destroy Rowley politically. I said that Manning was “not generally known as one of Rowley’s fervent admirers,” and I continued, somewhat less diplomatically: “(The commissioners) have scandalised themselves and us enough in the past few years…They must go. They should have gone already. Integrity demands it.”

I spoke direct to the then chairman and the then president, and told them precisely what I thought. Eventually, the commissioners went.

During the subsequent People’s Partnership administration, I again had cause to intervene. The then chairman had voiced unfortunate public sentiments which had (understandably) made a minister apoplectic. I knew them both; I spoke to them both, advising the chairman strongly to watch his words. The furore subsided, and then, to my astonishment, the chairman committed another wholly unforced indiscretion, at which point I advised him to resign. He did.

We’ll see what comes of the reports to the EOC and others. For now, I note the strong words used by Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams in her recent judgment in the Veera Bhajan matter. She was particularly biting (and, I felt, surprisingly personal) towards the chairperson of the Equal Opportunity Tribunal (different from the EOC), whom she invited to reflect on whether she was the “best fit for the chair of (that body).”

The IC chairman would not, I expect, want language like that directed at him.

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