Sunday, February 3, 2013

Feature: Some facts about Justice Rolston Nelson, PNM 'consensus' candidate for T&T presidency

If you look hard enough these days, you might discover needles in haystacks without much difficulty thanks to the search engines available on the Internet and the use of online archiving by news agencies and many other organisations, particularly business groups.

So when I wanted to learn more about the only person formally suggested so far as a possible candidate to become Trinidad and Tobago’s new Head of State, I found some things that I consider relevant about the candidate.

The People’s National Movement (PNM) wrote to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Friday suggesting that she consider nominating as a “consensus candidate”, Justice Rolston Nelson, who is a member of the Caribbean Court of Appeal (CCJ) based in Port of Spain.

I became interested because it is not the first time the PNM has focused on a judge for this honour. In 1997, when the UNC administration nominated A.N.R. Robinson to be president the PNM’s candidate was Justice Anthony Lucky, who became “tainted” as a result and there were demands for his resignation because of his close connection to a political party.

Justice Rolston Nelson - Click here to read his BIO
In the case of Justice Nelson he is only proposed and not nominated. However, because the PNM chose to publicly reveal his name instead of holding private discussions with the governing coalition on the matter the judge's image has been compromised and he may now be seen as being linked to a political party. 

One of the more interesting places I found the judge’s name was in a lengthy document from 1996 written by the then chairman of Republic Bank Limited, the late Frank Barsotti, to the bank’s shareholders with respect to what was then seen as a hostile takeover attempt by CL Financial. 

At the time CL had 34 per cent of the shares in Republic Bank and wanted to take control of the financial institution. CL summoned an extraordinary shareholders' meeting for the purpose of changing the board and Barsotti’s document was intended to warn shareholders of what was happening. "Clico, in the board’s opinion, is not by any means a fit and proper person to hold a controlling shareholding in any bank, let alone your bank,” he wrote in 1996.

Among the proposed changes were:

  1. Wendell Mottley, former Minister of Finance in the Manning PNM administration, to take over the chairmanship from Barsotti 
  2. Rolston Nelson to replace director John Jardim, the bank’s Managing Director at the time 
  3. Andre Monteil, the PNM treasurer, to take over from George L. Lewis. Monteil also held influential business ties in other organisations 
On Page six of the document Barsotti wrote:

Image from the original document. Please click here to read complete the document online
Four years earlier, in April 1992, the Manning PNM Government had appointed Monteil to be to be chairman of the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission and the PNM-appointed board later appointed Monteil to be chairman of the Management Committee of the TTEC Pension Fund, established in November 1971 to provide pension and other benefits to the TTEC labour force.

In February 1995 the Pension Fund sold all its 5.7 million shares in Republic Bank on the recommendation of Monteil. A few days later on March 10, 1995 Viveka Holdings Limited and Clico bought the shares on the local stock exchange.

After the initial hostilities between CLICO and the bank Nelson served on the board of Republic Bank although he had been described by Barsotti as being one of the persons who was not "fit and proper". 

When Ronald Harford became the Bank's Managing Director in 1997 he and CL Executive Chairman Lawrence Duprey met in Miami and resolved the differences between the two organisations and Nelson became a director of the bank. He held the directorship until he became a judge.

While there is no suggestion of any impropriety by the judge, the relationship between him and his client, Andre Monteil, raises questions about whether he had or continues to have political connections. It also raises questions about whether he still has a relationship with Monteil. 

Monteil, through Viveka Holdings, had strong connections to CL and CLICO as well as the Manning PNM. And Nelson was the company's lawyer at the time. He only became a judge in 1999 and in 2001 together with Justice Sat Sharma and Chief Justice Michael De La Bastide ruled against the UNC in the appeal in the highly charged political case involving UNC MPs William "Bill" Chaitan and Winston "Gypsy" Peters.

Although he was new in the judiciary, Nelson was considered among the front runners for the post of Chief Justice in 2002. The then President, Arthur NR Robinson, had before him the names of Roger Hamel-Smith and Rolston Nelson for Chief Justice. But Robinson decided on Sat Sharma to head the judiciary.

Nelson's CV states that he served as chairman of the Unit Trust Corporation and that in 1989 he chaired the state-owned Workers' Bank Limited. Both these positions required approval by the administrations at the time.

Nelson's name featured prominently in 2011 when Opposition Leader Keith Rowley chastised Attorney General Anand Ramlogan for the appointment of Susan Francois as Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit. Rowley accused Ramlogan of using Nelson to support his decision to appoint Francois, who had named Nelson as a reference in her CV.

Today, as a member of the CCJ Nelson is a strong supporter of the court as a final appeal jurisdiction for Trinidad and Tobago and the region. He has been quoted in the local media as supporting the views of senior CCJ colleagues that Trinidad and Tobago is bound by international law to make the CCJ. That's also a political position.

Here's an important point to ponder: "Should CCJ judges be advocating their own cause? One of the cardinal principles of judicial propriety is the avoidance of being a judge in one's own cause."

Nobody knows who will be the new President. We expect to have a clear picture Monday when the Prime Minister has promised to reveal the name of the only nominee from the government. She has invited the Leader of the Opposition to meet with her at his "earliest convenience" for discussion on a consensus candidate. The ball is now in Keith Rowley's court.

Jai Parasram

No comments:

Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai