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In the Open

Friday, June 21, 2013

While discussions behind closed doors usually suggest some kind of clandestine activity, it is unfortunate when much more is made of an unfortunate choice of location to hold an otherwise legitimate meeting. There has been such an erosion of public trust in individuals who hold public office that there is always a premature finding of gross misconduct even in the face of full disclosure.


To make matters worse, there is noticeable inconsistency in approach because many who are calling for the heads of Dr Rowley and Mr Gordon have themselves been guilty of holding meetings and entertaining discussions with persons who are supposed to be independent factfinders in matters that have been placed in the public domain.


By no means am I suggesting that the meeting between the two gentlemen should not be frowned upon as a gross error in judgment. In fact, upon their reflection, I am confident that both men recognise the lack of prudence in the circumstance of their meeting. As some have correctly said, they should have known better in light of all that is going on.


But despite this act, which might best be termed “inadvertently foolish,” what is of greater deprecation is the manner in which certain individuals who ought to know better are using the incident to deflect and distract the population from the real matter at hand—the validity of the e-mails and their content. There is nothing wrong with people expressing their views, but there is objection to using this meeting to promote a political agenda.


Some veteran political distractors have gone so far as to use the meeting as evidence of the falsity of the e-mails and are calling for charges to be laid against one of the parties for misbehaviour in public office. And while speakers on platforms are allowed great latitude in their utterances, especially when in front of crowds of exuberant supporters who boisterously cheer at any negative statement made against the opposing parties, it is expected that those who are trained in law, will not get carried away with the moment.


A “secret” meeting, which is the term being used to describe the discussion held between Dr Rowley and Mr Gordon at the home of the latter, does not in itself mean that the conduct of the former amounts to a crime. In order to be in breach of the law, Dr Rowley must be shown to have wilfully conducted himself to such a degree to amount to an abuse of public trust.


Based on what has been reported, in my view, the meeting was improper and a poor exercise in judgment but there is nothing placed in the public domain to suggest that the choice of meeting place and the content of the discussion are sufficient to amount to conduct that violates public trust. It is, therefore, recommended that before further comment is made on this particular issue, Mr Gordon be given the opportunity to state the manner in which he intends to move forward on the matter.


The President of the Republic has already, some weeks ago, indicated that he is well aware of the need to fill the vacancies on the Integrity Commission but one acknowledges that this is no easy task because even when fit and proper citizens suitable to hold the posts are identified, they may not be willing to serve.


The matter of the e-mails is the subject of a police investigation, Dr Rowley is before the parliamentary Privileges Committee and the issue of the validity of the e-mails remains a hot topic in the court of public opinion. All attempts to use the back door to sway the minds of the population as to where the truth lies ought to be condemned because the investigation in the matter is not yet complete.


Although the matter is not sub judice, meaning that it is not before a court of law and, therefore, not forbidden to be publicly discussed elsewhere, there is a responsibility to ensure that there is no risk of compromise, however unreal, in the findings to be made by any of the entities who are adjudicating on the subject. The resort by affected parties to foreign and local IT experts is wholly acceptable but there must be caution in publishing the findings by experts who have been hired on their behalf or work in their departments.


The justification that there is a separate legal and political component to the matter is appreciated but in order to ensure fairness, the political aspect must not be allowed to overshadow the justice of the case. As an eminent legal counsel opined: “Somebody has done something wrong and whoever it is, even if they hold high office, must face the full brunt of the law.”


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