Fresh evidence presented to the Integrity Commission has prompted it to reopen an investigation into People’s National Movement Chief Whip Marlene McDonald.
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I won’t be bullied—Carolyn
Sports Minister Anil Roberts is contesting a decision by the Congress of the People (COP) to suspend him over the controversial ganja video, saying the party had no power under its constitution to do so. In a letter to addressed to chairman Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan yesterday, Roberts said he also never received any notification of his suspension from the party and got the news via the media. He said Seepersad-Bachan should also back off from any probe as she was not fit to head any investigating committee.
“Clearly, you ought to recuse yourself. Clearly, you pre-judged the issue and ought not to have placed yourself in a position to purport to make decisions about me,” Roberts said. He also claimed when he met with party executives on May 30, the first time they gathered to discuss the video, he was never called on to answer any case.
“I was invited to a discussion on Thursday 30th May, 2014 and it was not made clear what allegation or case I had to answer, if any. Indeed, it was never represented to me that any adverse finding or action would be taken against me,” Roberts said. He called on Seepersad-Bachan to say under what powers of the constitution was he suspended.
“It is my position that not only you have absolutely no power to so do but in any event your actions and that of the committee are fundamentally flawed and are more aimed at creating a veneer of some sort of action having been taken to placate others. Unfortunately, this sort of ineffectual action is what has come to typify your leadership,” he said.
COP leader Prakash Ramadhar announced on Monday night that Roberts had been suspended from the party over his failure to co-operate with the investigating team on the issue. In a radio interview yesterday, Ramadhar said Roberts had trivialised the controversial matter and based on his unwillingness to co-operate, the party had suspended him. The video, which was aired over two weeks ago, shows a man resembling a Government minister rolling what appears to be a ganja cigarette in a hotel room with two women.
Roberts has neither confirmed nor denied he is the person in the video and now answers all attempts at confirmation by the media with the response that it is now in his lawyers’ hands. But in response to Roberts’s claims yesterday, Seepersad-Bachan said the decision to suspend Roberts was not a personal one but was taken by the party’s national executive on Monday. Saying she would not be bullied, Seepersad-Bachan also said the executive was supposed to inform Roberts of his suspension yesterday.
Initially, however, COP leader Prakash Ramadhar said they would have communicated the decision to Roberts on Monday, following the decision at COP’s Operations Centre in Charlieville, Chaguanas. With regard to Roberts’s claim he was never asked to answer a case during their meeting last week, Seepersad-Bachan said: “What did he think he was invited to? A tea party?”
Seepersad-Bachan also noted that while her party has severed all ties with Roberts over his failure to co-operate with it on the video issue, the party’s constitution did not allow expulsion. As such Roberts’s D’Abadie\O’Meara seat, which he won on a COP ticket, could not be declared vacant unless he resigned, she said. She added that the party was moving to amend the constitution to include an expulsion clause, but that could only be ratified by the national assembly when it met in September.
Insisting Roberts should step down as a minister, Seepersad-Bachan said the party’s suspension of him was not inconsistent with previous positions taken. “We have made our position clear. In my view there is no way that Mr Roberts can now, or in the future, represent this party publicly. “In fact, he has breached our code of ethics and code of behavior for public officials representing the people. We are not pronouncing guilt or innocence. We are saying a matter of this magnitude requires him to clarify,” Seepersad-Bachan said.
Asked why it took so long for Roberts to be suspended, Seepersad-Bachan said the COP wanted to get the facts right before taking action. “We believe in natural justice. People say that the video was on Facebook but there are a lot of rumours that it has been altered. It took a while before TV6 could give us the video.”
Political analyst Mukesh Basdeo said yesterday the findings of the audited report of the controversial Life Sport programme, and not the ganja video, would ultimately determine whether the Prime Minister fired Roberts. He also said it was difficult to lay criminal charges against anyone in the video because the nature of the substance was unclear and the video could not be linked to the minister. Asked whether the suspension of Roberts would hurt the COP’s chances in next year’s general election, Basdeo said that was difficult to say.
“The COP has lost a lot of support since 2010 but in politics one day you can be unpopular and the next you can rise from the ashes,” he said.