Ken Gordon tells two stories
By Andre Bagoo Wednesday, December 21 2011
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CHAIRMAN of the Integrity Commission Ken Gordon yesterday gave contradictory responses to an exclusive Newsday cover story over a row between himself and deputy chairman Glady Gafoor, as he came under further pressure for actions during his tenure in the post.
In the morning, during an interview on CNC 3’s Early Morning Show, Gordon said there was “strong truth” to the story and admitted that “there are problems” at the commission and that there had been one “false step” in relation to the issue facing the commission.
However, by yesterday afternoon, the commission issued a press release categorically denying any “bitter row” at the commission. The release also appeared — in the views of some — to threaten police action over the story, though this was not made clear by the commission.
Gordon, in the CNC 3 interview conducted by Hema Ramkissoon, also dismissed the legal and constitutional questions raised in the article over his reported directives to two commissioners to recuse themselves from an investigation involving former PNM attorney general John Jeremie. He said the issue was merely “an administrative matter”.
Newsday exclusively reported yesterday reports that Gordon has, upon a request from Jeremie, asked Gafoor and another commissioner Seunarine Jokhoo, to absent themselves from meetings and proceedings at the commission. His apparently unilateral entreaties came even before the commission as a whole determined how to deal with Jeremie’s request, an issue which is due to be dealt with today. The repeated requests have embroiled Gordon and the deputy chairman in a row, amid threats of legal action.
“The Integrity Commission of Trinidad and Tobago has noted with deep regret an article in the Newsday which has sensationalised an internal matter to the commission,” a commission spokesperson said in an unsigned e-mailed statement released yesterday at about 2.46 pm.
“The commission categorically denies that there is any ‘bitter row’ between members of the commission as reported in this article. The deliberations and functions of the commission are always conducted in a manner which takes into consideration healthy disagreement amongst its members with a view to a proper and civilised resolution of those matters.”
The statement continued, “regarding any allegations involving breaches of confidentiality or unlawful disclosure of information, alluded to in the article, the commission views this very seriously. Steps have already been taken to seek the assistance of the Commissioner of Police to commence a thorough investigation into whether any information or records of the Commission have been disclosed to any unauthorised persons.”
The position adopted by the commission in the statement — and apparently sanctioned by the chairman — was in sharp contrast with statements made by Gordon in the morning on live television when confronted with the issue. The tone of both were, arguably, at odds with each other.
Asked by Ramkissoon to comment on the Newsday story, Gordon said, “I am obviously not going to comment on the affairs of the commission because apart from anything else we have all had to take an oath about that.
“Enough of it is accurate to indicate that somebody has broken that oath but there you are.”
He further commented, “There is some truth to it yes, but I am not going to get into that.
“There are elements of strong truth in that. There are also elements that are inaccurate.”
“The bottom line of all of this is we have a problem, a problem which I believe can still be solved,” he said. “It is unfortunate that it has reached the newspapers before we were able to resolve it but there you are, we have to deal with these things as they come along. I certainly am not going to comment on it.”
He further commented, “overall I think we have a good mix of people on the commission. But as the newspaper article pointed out, there are problems.”
Asked what some of the problems were, he said, “There are differences and where there are differences there will only be a period of time before they are sorted out.”
Later, he added, “It takes one false step and bam! Look at today’s front page for instance this is a matter that is an administrative matter. It has come out of very valid principled reasons but yet somebody gets something on it and it is blown out of proportion and we see how it comes up.”
Gordon did not return calls or messages from Newsday. A secretary said he was at a meeting.
An administrative assistant later said she had trouble transferring a call to his secretary. Another said the secretary was not there.
The row between Gordon and Gafoor, which is expected to come to a head today at a special meeting of the commission, came after Gordon reportedly asked Gafoor to recuse herself from the matter of an investigation into Jeremie.
Contacted yesterday, Gafoor would offer no comment.
“I have noted the article and I am not in a position to offer any comment at this time,” she said. Jokhoo could not be reached.
The complaint against Jeremie was filed by the late Desmond Allum SC, a former head of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA).
Allum, as CBA president, in July 2008, first issued a call for Jeremie to be probed to determine whether he attempted to pervert the course of public justice or misbehaved in public office arising out of his reported involvement in the re-purchase of land at Millennium Park, owned by the key witness in the criminal case against Sharma, former Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls.
Contacted yesterday, Jeremie said he had full confidence in Gordon.
“I cannot comment. I suggest that you contact the chairman or the Registrar of the Integrity Commission (Martin Farrell) both of whom I have full confidence in,” he said.
Gordon, in his CNC 3 interview, suggested that it was because of “the Jeremie case” that he took a controversial step to direct all correspondence sent to the commission go first to a lawyer for screening before reaching the commissioners who constitute the constitutional body.
In relation to the implied threat of police action in relation to the story, legal sources yesterday expressed amazement that Gordon, a reported advocate of the free press, has threatened the media with a police investigation.
“It seems to me to be rubbish, and you can write that,” one lawyer with detailed knowledge of the Integrity in Public Life Act said.
Yesterday’s developments came as Gordon came under further pressure for other remarks made during the CNC 3 interview.
Questioned over reports that the Integrity Commission had apologised to former finance minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira for referring a report on her under the wrong section of the Integrity in Public Life Act, Gordon criticised Nunez-Tesheira for comments she made to the press over the weekend.
“It is unfortunate that Ms Tesheira has been a little less than graceful in responding to our apology but then again that is her right,” he said. “It is understandable that she is piqued about it and I have no problem about that. We have made a mistake and apologised for it and we have learnt from it.”
Nunez-Tesheira, however, yesterday criticised Gordon for this remark. She noted that the commission, by letter dated November 25, wrote to her to say that it had referred a report on her to the Director of Public Prosecutions under the wrong section of the Integrity in Public Life Act. In that letter, she said, the commission said the report on her — in relation to an allegation of conflict of interest in relation to the Clico bailout — should have been sent to the DPP under Section 31 (3) and not Section 34 (7). The change effectively meant that the offence which the commission deemed to have been made out was not a criminal offence, but rather a civil violation of the commission code which should be reported as a matter of form to the DPP.
The letter, penned by Martin Farrell, ended with the statement, “I regret and apologise for any inconvenience that this error may have caused.”
Nunez-Tesheira said that the issue involved her reputation and she was surprised that Gordon, who once sued former UNC political leader Basdeo Panday in a slander matter that went right up to the Privy Council, would remark that she had been ungracious.
“I have the highest regard for Mr Ken Gordon,” Nunez-Tesheira said. “And I was very pleased to see his appointment.
“However, I was disappointed after what I heard this morning that, in an effort to defend what I considered to be indefensible, he stated that I had been ungracious.”
“He is adding insult to injury,” she said. “What I find peculiar and strange is that when Mr Panday called him something bad, Gordon said that his reputation had been tarnished, just as I feel in this instance.
“He (Gordon) was prepared to go all the way to the Privy Council in pursuit of clearing his name. So that if he felt so strongly about his reputation, he should understand that I could feel equally strongly about mine. I am sure he is not suggesting that his reputation is not more valued than any other person’s.”
She continued, “My attorneys had to write the Integrity Commission four times for a resolution.
“Had I not written to the Integrity Commission and pursued this matter, I am not sure they would have, in fact, apologised for anything. We had to threaten judicial review proceedings to get this.”