|KAMLA: JACK STAYS PUT |
By Clint Chan Tack Friday, June 18 2010
FOUR eminent legal counsels hired by the Government have advised Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her Cabinet that Jack Warner is not breaking any law by simultaneously holding the posts of Works and Transport Minister and vice president of the world football body, FIFA.
Attorney General (AG) Anand Ramlogan told reporters at yesterday’s post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair that Warner can legally hold both of these key posts and it is solely up to Persad-Bissessar to determine whether he or any other member of her Cabinet was fit to serve in the positions to which she appointed them.
As far as Persad-Bissessar is concerned, Warner is fit to serve.
“He will remain our Works Minister,” she told reporters yesterday after the swearing-in ceremony for Subhas Panday as a Government Minister at Knowsley, Port-of-Spain.
Recalling his commitment to advise the Cabinet on whether there was a conflict between Warner’s Cabinet and FIFA posts, Ramlogan revealed he had also asked former President Sir Ellis Clarke to submit his opinion on the matter.
Last week, the AG said Government had sought legal advice from Russell Martineau SC, Sir Fenton Ramsahoye SC and Sir Michael Beloff on the Warner issue which has been in the spotlight since Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley wrote a letter to the Integrity Commission on June 7. In that letter, Rowley asked the commission to give an opinion as to whether Warner could hold both his Cabinet and FIFA posts.
“I felt the matter was sufficiently important to take the matter to Sir Ellis in light of the fact that he is perhaps one of the grandfathers of our Constitution,” Ramlogan stated. He then quoted excerpts from the legal opinions of Sir Ellis, Martineau, Ramsahoye and Beloff to reporters.
Ramlogan said Sir Ellis observed with respect to the release issued by the commission on June 9, two days after it received Rowley’s letter, that “brevity has been achieved at the expense of accuracy. He said Sir Ellis noted that the FIFA vice president position is mainly a ceremonial one “involving considerable travel for which generous allowances are paid”.
The AG said Sir Ellis indicated it was difficult for him to see how a conflict of interest would arise between Warner’s Cabinet and FIFA positions.
However, Ramlogan noted that Sir Ellis pointed out that the practical question is whether Warner can give adequate attention to his Cabinet duties if he is also a FIFA vice president. “That is a practical question, not a legal question.”
Quoting from Sir Ellis’ opinion, Ramlogan said, “Obviously this is not a matter for the Integrity Commission to decide. Basically, it is for the Prime Minister to decide whether or not the minister is giving full and satisfactory attention to the discharge of the responsibilities of the ministry. Here lies the answer to the original question which the Integrity Commission faced.”
Martineau agreed in his opinion that Persad-Bissessar “will have to make a judgment” about whether Warner can function properly in both positions.
“There is no legal prohibition against Mr Warner maintaining his position as minister in government while he also is vice president of FIFA. It follows that Mr Warner should not allow his position as vice president of FIFA or any other ministerial position to interfere with the proper discharge of his duties as a minister,” said Martineau.
In his opinion, Ramsahoye said there is “no constitutional or statutory restriction” to Warner’s appointment as a Cabinet minister while he held the position of FIFA vice president.
“It is not easy to see how the position of Minister of Works and Transport or a member of the Cabinet can be compromised by the functions of the vice president of FIFA.”
Should a conflict of interest arise, although one is not envisaged, Ramsahoye said Warner will be obliged to disclose his interests and to act in accordance with the 1988 Code of Ethics of Parliamentarians and the Integrity in Public Life Act.
“I am of the opinion that Mr Warner can hold office both as Minister of Works and Transport and retain his position as FIFA vice president.”
Describing Warner’s FIFA position as “an honour for Trinidad and Tobago,” Ramsahoye said, “(Warner’s) connections in the promotion of football are likely to benefit the entire country. It is not easy to see anything adverse to Trinidad and Tobago or any compromise of public life of any kind by his holding the vice president position.”
Beloff too found it difficult to see where Warner’s ministerial position could “be used to advance FIFA’s interests improperly”. Beloff concluded that there was nothing in this country’s laws or the Code of Ethics for Parliamentarians “to require Mr Warner to resign from his unpaid, part-time role in FIFA with whom he has been involved since 1983, consequent upon his appointment to Cabinet.”
As did Ramsahoye, Beloff felt Warner’s “high office” in FIFA “is calculated to bring prestige to the republic of TT rather than to damage its interests”.
After citing these opinions, the AG said he concluded Warner did not have to give up either post.
“Having received these opinions, I have advised the Honourable Prime Minister in writing, that Minister Warner can remain a member of the Cabinet and he can simultaneously retain his position as vice president of FIFA,” he said.
The AG also said that should any potential for conflict of interest be detected by him, the Prime Minister or any other Cabinet minister, Warner “should voluntarily recuse himself and if not, he would be asked so to do”.
“It is a matter for her discretion and personal judgment if Mr Warner’s duties as FIFA vice president significantly adversely affect his ability to perform his duties as Minister of Works and to take such appropriate action as she sees fit in her own judgement and discretion.”
However the AG was quick to point out that “thus far however, we have had no cause to suspect anything of the kind, given Mr Warner’s unwavering commitment to his ministry and his work ethic for which he is well known to work 18 hours a day.”
Noting that the public perception was that Warner was legally prohibited from holding these positions, Ramlogan said: “We have sought clarification on that and the clarification is that there is nothing in law barring Minister Warner from holding both positions.”
“The Prime Minister retains a general discretion over all Cabinet Ministers that should they embark upon anything that could impair or significantly affect their performance as ministers that she could ask them to pull up on their bootstraps, ask them to perform better, point out their shortcomings or she could simply get rid of them from Cabinet. This is not specific to Minister Warner.”
Explaining that the Constitution allows for someone to be a government minister and an elected MP and hold a position once that position is being used for private profit or gain, the AG said Persad-Bissessar shared an employer-employee relationship with all her Cabinet ministers.
“There is something unethical about leaving anyone who is not performing as a minister in Cabinet but there is nothing unethical in allowing someone who is performing competently and capably and allowing them to remain in Cabinet and to serve the people if they are in fact up to scratch.”
Stating he asked FIFA for the particulars on Warner’s vice-presidency, Ramlogan said Warner received no salary and any pension which he might be entitled to as a FIFA executive member did not raise any legal or ethical issues with the Government. Ramlogan said the latter issue was a FIFA matter. FIFA’s 2009 financial report said consideration was being given regarding pension arrangements for executive members. Under this arrangement, Warner could receive a pension of US$30,000 a year for the next 23 years.
Persad-Bissessar, speaking at Knowsley, said she accepted the four legal opinions which the Government received and she planned to keep him in her Cabinet.
“In law, there is obviously nothing wrong with it. In terms of the ethics, if it has to do with work ethic and if it is that, Mr Warner is capable of performing his functions as Minister of Works and those are not impaired in terms of work. I see no reason why Mr Warner should be called upon to choose or whether myself in my capacity as Prime Minister should ask him to step down as Minister or Works,” she declared. “So he will remain our Minister of Works.”