By Andre Bagoo
June 16 2013 – newsday.co.tt
THE ACTIONS of the chairman of the Integrity Commission chairman Ken Gordon in holding a private meeting at his Glencoe home with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley was a serious error of judgment which has now compromised the Commission as well as the Office of the President, senior political analyst Dr Hamid Ghany said yesterday.
Ghany said the meeting, held on May 15 at the chairman’s resident at Newbury Hill, Glencoe, displayed “poor judgment” on the part of Gordon and now risks disrupting the appointment process which is currently being undertaken by President Anthony Carmona.
“The Integrity Commission has been compromised by the error of judgment of the Chairman in this matter,” Ghany, a Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the University of the West Indies told Sunday Newsday. “My concerns about this secret meeting between the Leader of the Opposition and the Chairman of the Integrity Commission on May 15th instant revolve around several points.”
Firstly, Ghany said, it is clear that the meeting at Gordon’s home was not a social one, but rather an official one, a distinction which has implications.
“The meeting became a business meeting the moment that Dr Rowley declined the offer of a drink from Mr Gordon as the facility of masking the meeting as a social encounter over drinks was eliminated by Dr Rowley’s action of declining the civil gesture of his host,” he said.
“At that point, Mr Gordon became trapped in a business meeting which he allowed to continue having already taken the risk of having Dr Rowley come to his home. He should have ended the encounter at the moment that the social side was eliminated as his judgmental risk had now been converted into a confirmed judgmental error.” He said Gordon’s mistake was compounded by his decision to continue the meeting and then worsened when the chairman appeared to divulge information about matters that related to the Commission.
“Instead, the chairman proceeded to divulge confidential information relating to the business of the Commission to Dr Rowley who, at that point on May 15th, had not sent anything to the Commission as he was holding it for his motion of no confidence on May 20th,” Ghany noted. “In the circumstances, Dr Rowley was discussing something that both he and the Chairman knew that Dr Rowley himself had not put before the Commission.”
Further, Ghany said, the lapse of judgment on the part of Gordon now jeopardises the appointment process which is ongoing involving Carmona, who has stated he has interviewed at least 40 persons. Ghany, who is also coordinator of Constitutional Affairs and the Parliamentary Studies Unit, UWI, said Gordon ought to have known that such a meeting could bring the Commission, once more, into disrepute.
“Mr Gordon displayed very poor judgment in having Dr Rowley come to his home to discuss something ‘urgent’ having regard to the positions that they both hold in public life,” Ghany said. “Dr. Rowley is an active politician and so he will pursue all of his political options for political advantage. Mr Gordon should have known better.”
The senior analyst continued, “Mr Gordon’s actions may compromise the selection of new Commissioners for the Integrity Commission who may have second thoughts about joining the Commission under the firestorm of this controversy involving Mr Gordon as Chairman. Depending on how far the President has reached with his consultations to appoint new Commissioners, some persons may change their minds if they had already indicated their willingness to serve, while others not yet approached may decline to serve with such a raging controversy involving the Chairman with whom they would be expected to work.”
Carmona last week Sunday said appointments to the Commission were expected within two weeks.
Ghany also stated that the Office of the President may have also been undermined in another way by Rowley’s election to seek information from the Integrity Commission chairman behind the back of the former President, George Maxwell Richards, to whom Rowley had referred purported emails naming high Government officials.
“Dr Rowley’s only point of contact in this matter was the former President, George Maxwell Richards, to whom he passed the purported e-mails on January 8th,” Ghany said. “In effect, he was going behind the back of the former President, some four months after his meeting with him, to see whether the former President had sent the documents to the Integrity Commission after all.”
The disclosure of the meeting came last Thursday after it was raised in Parliament by Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal. Hours after Moonilal raised the issue, the Commission Registrar, in response to queries from Newsday, released a copy of an aide memoire which gave Gordon’s account of the meeting.
The aide memoir, dated May 15, gives Gordon’s account of what happened after Rowley attempted to arrange an “urgent meeting” with Gordon on May 15.
“At the end of a meeting at the offices of the Integrity Commission on Wednesday 15th May I received a telephone message from my Secretary that the Leader of the Opposition Dr Keith Rowley had called me at approximately 2.23 pm,” Gordon states. “He requested an ‘urgent meeting’. He asked that I return his call and left his cell number to facilitate my doing so.”
The chairman of the Integrity Commission then took steps to try to contact Rowley, the Diego Martin West MP, Opposition Leader and former PNM minister.
“I attempted to reach him without success and left a message on his answering machine,” Gordon says. He made a second attempt, which was successful. “Not having heard from him (by 6 pm) and mindful of the urgency expressed earlier I tried again to reach him and this time did so,” Gordon states. Rowley told Gordon he was on his way home, prompting Gordon to make a suggestion.
States Gordon, “He (Rowley) stated that he was on his way home and that the ‘urgency’ still existed. Since we live in the same general area I suggested that he could stop over to see me on his way home. He did so and arrived some ten minutes later. I offered him a drink which he declined and we moved straight to the business of the meeting.”
Gordon says Rowley informed Gordon that he had “reason to believe” that Richards had referred a matter to the Commission and Rowley wanted to embark on a “certain course of action” since two months had elapsed.
“He advised that prior to former President Richards’ departure he (Dr Rowley) brought to the President’s attention a matter he considered to be very serious,” Gordon states. “Dr Rowley had reason to believe that the President may in turn have brought such matter to the attention of the Integrity Commission. Now with more than two months having elapsed Dr Rowley proposes to embark upon a certain course of action. He is therefore, enquiring whether the matter he had referred to President Richards had been passed to the Commission.”
In response, according to the account of the chairman, Gordon informed Rowley that the matter could not possibly be before the Commission since the Commission did not have a fully- appointed board.
“I reminded Dr Rowley that it is not the practice of the Commission to disclose the matters which are before the Commission,” Gordon states. “Even more significantly it was pointed out that the four (4) new appointments to the Commission had not as yet been made by President Carmona. While non-policy day to day operations continue to be addressed by the Commission, until the new Commissioners are appointed and sworn in new matters cannot be addressed until at least a quorum exists. The matter which he had referred to former President Richards is not therefore before the Integrity Commission.”
Gordon was quoted yesterday as saying, “Other than small chat, all that was discussed at that meeting was disclosed in the aide memoire. There was absolutely no breach of protocol. Why would I put the meeting on record if I thought there was. I am prepared to meet with any Member of Parliament, either the Opposition leader or the Attorney General at my home or otherwise if something is urgent.”
Rowley, who declined to respond to queries on Thursday, confirmed and corroborated Gordon’s account on Friday. He defended the meeting, saying it was nothing sinister. He said he met with Gordon to seek information on the purported email materials he had sent to Richards.