Sunday, June 23, 2013

Guest commentary - Integrity Tragicomedy - by Dr Hamid Ghany

Keith Rowley and Ken Gordon
As the Integrity Commission continues its inexorable spiral into another controversy, the attendant self-righteousness of the chairman, Ken Gordon, now leaves us with yet another wound on this badly wounded and limping organisation. 

His open declaration that he did nothing wrong by entertaining the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Keith Rowley, at his home for a private meeting to discuss a matter that Dr Rowley had sent to the President is enough to make one laugh, otherwise you might cry.

Quite apart from the revelation of confidential information to someone who falls in the category of “a person in public life,” there is also the decision of the chairman to retain the services of senior counsel to commence the very investigation that Dr Rowley is interested in. 

Mr Gordon knows the difference between Dr Rowley as “a person in public life” and your average news reporter who is not covered in the same way under the Integrity in Public Life Act.

With news reporters circling around the Integrity Commission in pursuit of legitimate stories as part of the very virtue of freedom of the press that had become so controversial a couple months ago, the placement of Dr Rowley amongst them as “a person in public life” complete with notepad, pen and cell phone recorder takes us into the comedy zone of this affair. 

The Prime Minister’s forceful attack on Dr Rowley at the Monday Night Forum of the UNC last week seemed to place too much emphasis on his role as opposed to that of Mr Gordon. The reality is that Dr Rowley is an active politician who will always seek advantage for himself and his party. 

Mr Gordon should know better, and the fact that his aide memoire has been contradicted by Dr Rowley’s version of events is what is making this a major controversy. 

The two of them have conflicting versions of what transpired. Mr Gordon said that he revealed to Dr Rowley that there was nothing before the commission in respect of the printed e-mails.

Dr Rowley told I95.5 FM two Fridays ago that he was preparing to go to the Parliament shortly with this matter and because of that he needed to ensure that the way that he would conduct himself in Parliament would meet the standard of what would be expected of him as a parliamentarian. That is not what Mr Gordon has said up to the time of my writing this column.

In naturally protecting their political leader, the PNM has had to make two concessions. One is to let Mr Gordon go by aligning their leader with the average media reporter who would be seeking information for further publication thereby transferring the burden of judgment to Mr Gordon to decipher the difference between the two (one who is “a person in public life” and the other who is not).

In other words, Dr Rowley is entitled, just like any media reporter, to seek confidential information from the commission and then to publish it in the manner in which reporters do. That is a bad analogy.

The last time a reporter did that the offices of his employers were searched by the police and he was followed by police to his home. This now equates media reporters with “persons in public life” where confidential information involving the commission is concerned and suggests that “persons in public life” can reveal confidential information from the Integrity Commission in the public domain.

The other concession is the validation, by the PNM, of the Prime Minister’s decision to have various types of meetings at her home. Are meetings of politicians at the Prime Minister’s home the new benchmark for the chairman of a quasi-judicial body to have meetings at his home to discuss commission business with interested parties?

With the danger zone of judges having meetings at their homes with interested parties in cases before them just over the horizon, we might as well just declare the whole thing proper and amend the Integrity in Public Life Act accordingly to establish a free-for-all among commissioners of the Integrity Commission to have home meetings with interested parties.

With the deafening silence of the usual pressure groups and other commentators who can always be counted on to be out front on ethical challenges, like this one, facing public officials, we have now moved into a dead zone where the society must now confront the true reality of what is happening here. 

The power of social connections that cut across small societies like ours make it difficult for these societies to implement such institutions that promote transparency, accountability and scrutiny. With political parties simultaneously attacking and defending the chairman, there is no doubt that the Integrity Commission is now being ripped apart in the process. Its brand name is badly damaged.

While, at the time of writing, the usual commentators and pressure groups who normally have a lot to say now sit idly on the sidelines neutered and unable to stand up one way or the other. What effectiveness will they have when the next controversy involving the commission occurs?

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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