Sunday, June 16, 2013

Guest commentary: Authentication first - by Dr Hamid Ghany

Dr Hamid Ghany
Last Monday, the Integrity Commission sent out two e-mails with a statement, the second of which corrected an obvious contextual error from the first one, in which “Senior Council” was corrected to become “Senior Counsel.”

The commission provided their e-mail audience with the opinion of an unnamed Senior Counsel in respect of the likely jurisdiction of the Integrity Commission in the matter of the e-mails that were referred to it by the former president. The first two paragraphs of their release stated as follows:

“The Integrity Commission of T&T wishes to inform that, based on public statements and matters raised relative to copies of electronic mails forwarded for authentication to the commission’s chairman by the then President of the Republic, advice was requested from Senior Counsel as to whether those matters can be investigated by the commission under the provisions of the Integrity in Public Life (IPLA) Act, Chapter 22:01.

“The Senior Counsel has advised that the commission indeed has the jurisdiction to consider and enquire matters where there have been breaches of the IPLA and where an offence has been committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act.”

Upon seeing this, I sent an e-mail to the commission to seek some further clarification in respect of a number of questions that their statement raised. Up to the time of writing, I have not heard from the commission.

The main issue that arises from their statement, is that the “electronic mails” were forwarded to them for “authentication.” I wanted to find out from them why it was necessary to hire Senior Counsel to address the issue of the jurisdiction of the commission to investigate the matters alleged in the “electronic mails” that were sent to them, when these “electronic mails” were sent for “authentication.”

I also questioned the commission on whether they believed that they were the proper forum to address the issue of the “authentication” of “electronic mails.”

To my mind, the commission has done a hop, a skip and a jump from authentication to investigation and has clearly not answered my other question about whether they can proceed to investigate the content of the “electronic mails” before they have settled the issue of “authentication.”

Furthermore, these steps have been taken parallel with the clear recognition by the same commission that they have not been quorate since March 14 instant. The dilemma here is that in advertising their powerlessness to proceed, they have simultaneously begun to proceed on the said matter by securing the services of Senior Counsel to determine their jurisdictional powers to handle the matter.

Seeing that the “electronic mails” from the former president arrived at the commission on March 6 and the other members of the commission, besides the chairman, demitted office on March 14 thereafter, I specifically asked the commission to answer whether the matter involving the retention of Senior Counsel by the commission to commence the process of investigation of the content of these “electronic mails” was handled by the chairman alone or by the chairman acting in concert with the other commissioners before they left office.

What is also germane to all of this is the date on which the unnamed Senior Counsel was retained by the commission with the accompanying brief. Surely there would be correspondence and payment vouchers to substantiate the decision of either the chairman alone or the chairman and other commissioners so that tracking the date should not be too onerous a task for the commission to provide.

The commission only provided an edited version of the opinion that it sought from Senior Counsel. I asked some of my other questions against the backdrop of whether the answers to these other questions may lie in the complete version of the opinion of Senior Counsel that is now in the possession of the commission.

By seeking to commence the investigation of the allegations made in the “electronic mails” sent to it by the former president through the retention of Senior Counsel to establish the jurisdictional authority of the commission to proceed while pleading parallel impotence because of the absence of a quorum since March 14, the Integrity Commission may have compromised their further investigation of this matter by their contradiction.

Did Senior Counsel advise them to make public the opinion that was sought and provided? 

Surely Senior Counsel would have cautioned the commission against releasing this opinion into the public domain because it could signal either that the commission is satisfied that the “electronic mails” are authentic before the police have made that determination or the commission has decided that authentication is not necessary before they can start investigating what is alleged in the “electronic mails.”

The problem with this is that the former president specifically sent the “electronic mails” to the Integrity Commission for “authentication. Instead of the commission, perhaps, seeking to retain the services of an information technology expert to address the authentication issue, they decided to retain Senior Counsel to address the jurisdictional issue. Why?

As was said aboard the Apollo 13 spacecraft in April 1970, “Houston, we have a problem.”

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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