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Anil’s fired up

By Clint Chan Tack Friday, June 21 2013

click on pic to zoom in
Fire truck memo: Sports Minister Anil Roberts, at Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair yesterday, goes through a November 22, 2012 memo (see below) ...
Fire truck memo: Sports Minister Anil Roberts, at Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair yesterday, goes through a November 22, 2012 memo (see below) ...

SPORTS Minister Anil Roberts was a “man on fire” at yesterday’s post-Cabinet news conference as he fielded questions from the media about the controversial meeting between Integrity Commission chairman Ken Gordon and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley on the email scandal, the ongoing controversy about the $6.8 million retrieval of a fire truck last year and threats by the labour movement to stage a march in Port-of-Spain on July 5.

Acting as Communications Minister in the place of line minister Jamal Mohammed at the news conference, Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair, Roberts said Cabinet was concerned about the silence from groups in the society about the May 15 meeting between Gordon and Rowley at Gordon’s Glencoe home; Rowley should resign once the emails are proven to be false: Cabinet has not approved a $10 million payment to Sammy’s Multilift Services to retrieve the fire truck and the unions’ march on July 5 should be a “march of celebration” because the People’s Partnership (PP) Government remains “pro-labour.”

During the conference, Roberts engaged in verbal sparring with Express reporter Ria Taitt about the fire truck.

The sequence of events began when Taitt asked Trade Minister Vasant Bharath: “Was the issue of the Integrity Commission and the controversy with respect to the meeting that took place between the chairman and the Opposition Leader at the chairman’s home, was that discussed at the Cabinet especially since the Prime Minister is in fact due to meet the President?”

Newsday exclusively reported on Thursday about the meeting between Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and President Anthony Carmona at the Office of the President in St Ann’s, which took place at the same time as the post-Cabinet conference.

“That matter was not raised and certainly not in any detail but as you rightly say, the Prime Minister is due to meet with the President later today but I am sure that Minister Roberts would be in a better position (to respond),” Bharath stated.

Roberts then took over answering questions.

He said: “The Cabinet did not discuss the matter in detail but noted that many independent NGOs and civic action groups have stayed and remained very quiet in light of the revelations brought about by the question by the Leader of Government Business Dr Roodal Moonilal to Opposition Leader, who was not in Parliament, who spoke on the bill (Finance Bill last Thursday) and then left for the next 17 hours. Asking him if he left or went to a meeting of the Integrity Commission at his home.”

Identifying the TT Transparency Institute and Fixin TT as some of the groups in question, Roberts said: “We look and we are willing to listen to any and all groups who are rather vociferous in attacking the Government at any point.”

He said while Government welcomes criticism, it is concerned when “a chairman of the Integrity Commission, who has the power through the Integrity in Public Life Act, to take away the freedom and the material belongings of ministers” can “conduct a surreptitious meeting at his home with the leader of a political organisation who is opposed to those who have been put in charge democratically by the electorate of TT, to meet at his house, offer drinks and scones, conduct a meeting that no one knows took place, ahead of a no-confidence motion.”

Claiming Rowley has told different versions of his meeting with Gordon and Government is trying to “to piece together which one could be truthful,” Roberts said the meeting took place eight days before Rowley filed his no confidence motion in Persad-Bissessar and the Government on May 20.

“Dr Rowley said he went to the chairman of the Integrity Commission for political advice, parliamentary advice, Leader of the Opposition advice, for conduct of his constitutional parliamentary duties,” he scoffed.

Roberts said Gordon’s meeting with Rowley “strikes this entire Government as an untoward position, an improper position, a conflicted position, an irrational position and a dangerous position.”

Saying many Cabinet ministers declared their assets on time with the Commission last year but Rowley was late in doing so, Roberts said: “So on what basis. On what good standing is the Leader of the Opposition to go to the house of the chairman of the Integrity Commission stating that his back gate goes into the chairman’s back gate which is absolutely not true.”

Noting that Rowley lives in Goodwood Park, Roberts said: “ The Leader of the Opposition lives in Goodwood Park. Anybody who knows Goodwood Park and Newbury Hill knows that no gates go back on to back and there are no back doors that you can come through. You have to drive out on the Western Main Road for a little while, turn right on to La Horquette and then up Newbury Hill, either the first right or the second right to go through the back entrance.” Roberts said he knows this because he has “lived there since 1980.”

On concerns raised by Deputy Police Commissioner Mervyn Richardson, who is leading the police probe into the email scandal, about parallel investigations being conducted by IT experts hired by Persad-Bissessar and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, Roberts said: “It is not interfering with an investigation. The PP is for openness and transparency. Everybody is cooperating.”

Refusing to describe the documents Rowley referred to in the House as emails, Roberts quipped: “Sorry I rephrase, I withdraw, I retract. The fabrication on the piece of paper, that was brought about and kept in the possession of Dr Keith Rowley for six months.”

Saying Rowley did not refer the documents to the police nor hire an IT expert to advise on their authenticity, Roberts charged: “He sought advice from one person and one person alone at his home. He drove his car straight inside and was offered a drink. He chose not to drink as far as we know but I don’t know what he chose to eat or what he chose to discuss.”

Describing the documents as “a total fabrication,” Roberts declared: “ The Prime Minister and her Ministers will never be involved in something so corrupt, something so ridiculous. The Opposition Leader is playing smart with foolishness and when it is proven that these things are absolutely fraudulent, he should have the testicular fortitude to resign!”

Switching to the fire truck, Roberts quoted a signed memo dated November 22, 2012 from then Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Carl Williams to the National Security Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Jennifer Boucaud-Blake which said the payment of $10,189,115 to Sammy’s Multilift Services to retrieve the truck which fell down a precipice at Blanchisseuse on November 17, 2012 “remains outstanding”.

In the memo, Williams said he “perused the attached document and found its contents to be genuine.” The memo also had an inscription which read: “Deputy PS Lynch for processing.”

As he held up the memo, Roberts told reporters: “You all will get copies of this, I don’t like to give you all copies and run away. This is not fake emails, this is real thing.” Saying the whole story was not being told in the media, Roberts said the facts were that: “The Cabinet did not take a decision and look at a ridiculous bill and say yes, go ahead and take out the fire truck. The Cabinet’s decision was pay or go to court.”

Taitt told Roberts: “In all of this you have not mentioned the Minister. What is the role of the Minister? Where is the Minister involved? Why do you have a Minister? The CFO can do something like that and then it goes to Cabinet. You have only been discussing CFO and Cabinet. Why do you have a Minister?”

Responding this was corporate governance 101, Roberts told Taitt: “Did you forget who I said he wrote it too?”

When Taitt replied “the permanent secretary,” Roberts said: “Yes, you did not mention that in your question. You gone to Minister. You must not run to Minister. Everything is not about bacchanal.”

Explaining the Auditor General’s report does not deal with ministers who neither write cheques nor approve invoices, Roberts said, “We have a Public Service there with very strict rules and structures.”

When Taitt tried to speak, Roberts replied: “Don’t interrupt please, I’m going to answer your question. Absolutely clearly.” He said the CFO “did not have to call a Minister and get a Minister to say hey boy take out the truck.”

Roberts said he did not know if the Minister was “ sleeping, talking politics or in a house having a scone.”

Agreeing with Persad-Bissessar that the issue was a fiasco, Robert said: “The fiasco occurred not with the Prime Minister’s ministers or the Cabinet or the politicians, the fiasco occurred between November 17 and November 19. No minister, no Cabinet, no politician. So whatever fiasco took place, did not occur because of any politician.”

“Not enough bacchanal, not exciting but true,” Roberts said.

“No, no, no. We’re not talking bacchanal. We’re talking corporate governance,” Taitt replied. “So the Minister when he had to take the note to the Cabinet, that was the first time the Minister was aware of what was going on?” Taitt asked. “Ah, welcome to the truth,” Roberts replied. “That is acceptable governance that the Minister has been presented with a situation?” Taitt asked.

“What you should do is, seeing that Dr Rowley said we are spending too much money on the constitutional reform, I think what you should do on your day off, you can now write your opinion and say the system that has existed since 1962, the governance structures that we must follow as ministers and Public Service, you must suggest that it should be changed and that ministers should have an input earlier.”

Noting the current system debars politicians from having any role in procurement issues like this, Roberts told Taitt: “The first sight of it, as you so eloquently put it, was when the note was ready to go to the Cabinet, sign the red file. Before that there was no ministerial intervention. There was none, there is none, there can be none.”

Tackling labour issues, Roberts said he got a copy of OWTU president general Ancel Roget’s speech at Wednesday’s Labour Day celebrations in Fyzabad.

Describing Roget as his friend and colleague, Roberts said he was “hurt” that Roget described him in his speech as “an inebriated loudmouth.”

“Well my colleague, I say to you, you are my friend and if I am inebriated, in the morning, I shall wake up sober but he will forever be Ancel Roget, intellectually challenged,” Roberts countered.

Describing the PP as “pro-labour” and this is borne out by former OWTU leader Errol McLeod as Labour Minister, Roberts said: “If labour wants to march on July 5, it must be a march of celebration that the PNM will never come back to tell labour to tighten their belt when gas is US$13.61 per mmbtu as occurred in 2005 under the Patrick Manning regime and when oil was US$147 per barrel.”

Claiming that Roget was “arguing with himself,” Roberts said if Government was as anti-labour as Roget claimed how was it able to resolve 66 unresolved wage negotiations left behind under the former PNM government.

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