Carmona to appoint commissioners
By SEAN DOUGLAS Tuesday, March 12 2013
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PRESIDENT George Maxwell Richards will let his successor, Anthony Carmona, choose the new Integrity Commission, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar told reporters while on tour of Penal yesterday.
An upbeat Persad-Bissessar said she had written Richards to ask that Carmona be allowed to name the new commission, and Richards had replied to say he would oblige. She gave the news at the opening of Anthony Branch Trace in Quinam Road, Penal last evening.
Last Saturday, Newsday exclusively reported a four-page letter dated March 5 from Persad-Bissessar to Richards which argued that it was not practical for Richards to name a new commission just three days before his own term ends on Sunday.
“I had advised His Excellency President Richards that it may be wise counsel to allow President-elect Carmona, who will be sworn in on the 18th (next Monday), that he should take care of the process of the appointment of the Integrity Commissioners because the Integrity Commissioners’ term of office ends on the 13th of March and His Excellency, President Richards, his term of office ends on the 17th,” Persad-Bissessar said. “I counselled that it would be prudent to allow President Carmona coming into office to take care of that process and make sure we don’t have some of the problems we have had in the past.”
Persad-Bissessar said Richards replied to her letter yesterday, agreeing to let Carmona choose the new commissioners.
“My office received a letter today (yesterday) from his Excellency President Richards and he has graciously agreed that he would leave the appointment of the commissioners to incoming President Carmona. We want to thank his Excellency President Richards very much for allowing that process to be taken in due course by our new President,” she said.
President’s House officials declined to comment on the matter.
The term of the present commission ends tomorrow, except for chairman, Ken Gordon, who was appointed on November 1, 2011 for a period of three years, to replace his predecessor, Dr Eric St Cyr. The outgoing commissioners are Gladys Gafoor, Dr Ann-Marie Bissessar, Neil Rolingson and Seunarine Jokhoo.
In her March 5 letter to Richards, Persad-Bissessar said the Integrity Commission has a critical role to oversee and regulate the conduct of public officials and so must hold the public trust.
She said the commission’s role will grow as her Government mulls the creation of an Anti-Corruption Agency plus procurement laws which could let the President name a Procurement Legislator. Given all of this, she suggested, “it may be more prudent and appropriate for the appointment of members of the Integrity Commission for a new term to be left to the discretion of the new President (Carmona), who is himself well-versed in legal matters.”
Carmona is a former High Court judge.
Persad-Bissessar said the Commission has had its challenges, especially since 2009 when some members became embroiled in controversy including internecine warfare acted out in public.
“There has been grave public disquiet and concern about the process for the selection of commissioners. It is necessary to rebuild and restore public confidence in the Integrity Commission,” she said.
“Experience has shown that serious mistakes have been made when new appointments are made in a rushed or hasty manner.” “Proper background checks on candidates before their appointment could have averted much of the damage to the Commission’s image,” said Persad-Bissessar.
“I am sure Your Excellency would not wish such appointments now, on the eve of a new President being sworn in, to cause undue media and public scrutiny, particularly at a time when you demit office after a decade of outstanding and distinguished service,” she said.
“Any sudden appointments might suggest Richards lacks faith in Carmona,” advised Persad-Bissessar. She said background checks on candidates must be carefully done.
“This is a process which is unlikely to be completed within the next ten days before His Excellency demits office and President-elect Anthony Carmona assumes the duties of the President,” she said. “Your Excellency may therefore wish to consider whether it would not be more prudent and appropriate for the process of appointment of Members to be initiated or continued by President-elect Carmona when he assumes office.”
Yesterday, outgoing commissioner, Dr Ann-Marie Bissessar said the heavy demands of her work as a lecturer at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, meant she had long made it clear to everyone that she would not be offering herself to return to the Commission.
She is supervising 20 M.Phil students, and penning books about corruption and money-laundering. “My plate is full,” she laughed. Bissessar said yesterday had been a bit sad for her as she and other commissioners attended a luncheon in their honour hosted by staff at the Commission office at Independence Square, Port-of-Spain. “The staff is very professional, nice, young and bright,” she effused. Her experience at the Integrity Commission had been very useful and worthwhile and had been a good discipline as she had to study various laws. Asked if the woes of past commissions had been a disincentive to her, she said, “No. As a young person you must do the right thing always.”
“In any organisation there will be little rifts. I saw a rift coming up, but once you could purge yourself internally, that’s a good thing. It’s a worthwhile experience for anybody.”
Given its past woes, is the Integrity Commission sustainable?
She replied, “Definitely! Definitely! There must always be an Integrity Commission.”
She hailed two past chairmen she had worked with as being “gentlemen”, Gordon Deane and Dr Eric St Cyr, both who had resigned prematurely, in addition to past chairmen, John Martin and Fr Henry Charles. The current commission was hit by a row between Ken Gordon and deputy chairman, Gladys Gafoor, following which, based on a report made by Gordon, the police raided Newsday to seek evidence about that spat.