By By Ria Taitt Political Editor
A Sunday Express investigative report has triggered a complaint to the Integrity Commission against Independent Liberal Party leader Jack Warner.
And the Integrity Commission is investigating the complaint which was made by the Equality Council of Trinidad and Tobago.
“Further to the Integrity Commission’s letter to you dated July 26, 2013, please be advised that the Commission has commenced an investigation into the complaint,” the Commission’s letter to the Council, dated August 14, 2013, stated.
The letter was signed by Martin Farrell, Registrar.
The Council raised the issue of Warner soliciting “donations” from contractors for various activities while these contractors were bidding for contracts from the Ministry of Works during his tenure as Minister of Works and Infrastructure.
The information came into the public domain through a Sunday Express investigation by head of the Investigative Desk, Camini Marajh.
Marajh’s story, carried on July 14, stated that Warner “engaged in an improper solicitation of funds from private business interests in his official capacity as a Government minister in 2010 and 2011”.
Warner wrote to contractors and other business interests as Minister of Works and Infrastructure asking them to make generous donations to a private company in which he once held an interest and in which one of his employees, Joanne Mora, is a controlling shareholder and managing director, the article stated.
The report noted that Warner wrote to contractor Junior Sammy on November 29, 2011 asking for contributions to help pay for a Ministry of Works Christmas party, planned for December 20 at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya.
“He called on business stakeholders to make generous donations to a bank account at RBC held in the name of JLM Quality Services Limited, a private company in which he was a director up to October 31, 2007,” the Sunday Express report stated.
The letter of complaint to the Integrity Commission, calling for an investigation into the matter, stated: “It is without precedent that a Minister of Government writes contractors soliciting funds for functions when the said contractors are being considered for various contracts before the said ministry. The issues of good governance are self-evident and it is inconceivable that Mr Warner would be unaware of the obvious irregularity of this practice and its implications.”
The letter noted that the newspaper report had not been denied by Warner.
“Millions of dollars were actively solicited by (then) Minister Warner using the ministry’s letterhead to a charity where his personal political staff and family were listed as directors…This was not the normal practice…prior to Mr Warner assuming the portfolio, and it is also not the practice of other ministries of Government,” the letter stated.
The letter which is written by Kristal Maharaj, chairman of the council, said information reaching her indicated that similar letters requesting donations were made for other events by the then minister.
Maharaj is the wife of Food Production Minister and former chairman of the Indo-Trinbago Equality Council Devant Maharaj.
“Additionally it has come to my attention that a contract employee of Mr Warner, one Indra Jaggessar-Maharaj was contracted by the Ministry of Works and Transport in the Communications Department but instead worked full time at the constituency office of the Member of Parliament. This in my respectful opinion represents a breach of Section 24 of the Integrity in Public Life Act 2000,” Maharaj said.
The letter noted that the report identified contractor Junior Sammy as a donor.
“At the same time…Minister Warner awarded Junior Sammy a lucrative contract at the airport without an appointed board,” the complaint said.
The letter referred to a legal opinion given by attorney Jagdeo Singh and stated that it appeared that there was a breach of the Integrity in Public Life Act 2000, Section 27. Section 27 states that a person in public life shall not accept a fee, gift or personal benefit, except compensation authorised by law, that is connected directly or indirectly with the performance of his or her duties. Where the gift or personal benefit exceeds two thousand dollars in value, the person shall declare it indicating the nature of the fee, gift or benefit, its source and the circumstances under which it was given or accepted.
Singh also referenced Section 24 of the Integrity in Public Life Act “which seeks to regulate the use of the office Mr Warner held in an effective and efficient manner in particular the administration of public resources and function. It is specified under subsection a to c, that he be fair and impartial in the exercise of his public duty, afford no undue preferential treatment to any group or individual”. Singh noted that Warner did not declare the “gift” given by the contractors.
Section 24 also states that a person in public life shall arrange his private interests…in such a manner as to maintain public confidence and trust in his integrity, shall not use his office for the improper advancement of his own or his family’s personal or financial interests or the interest of any person.
“He (Warner) has failed to segregate his private businesses from that of the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure in the setting up of the bank account at RBC.”
Singh also referred to the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Contacted yesterday, Warner said he had no comment to make.
The Integrity Commission is also investigating corruption allegations against a Government minister made by Warner. But in this case there was no formal complaint. Instead the Commission acted on its own initiative in investigating Warner’s claim that a Government minister had acquired six houses, one of which came from a contractor receiving a $36 million contract.
Even though the minister’s name was not specifically stated, Minister of the People, Glenn Ramadharsingh has vigorously denied the allegation.