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Probe Carmona says QC

Published: 
Sunday, January 8, 2017
Police refuse to respond to lawyer’s letter

A “proper and independent” police investigation must be conducted to “reveal the true picture” about the housing allowance that was paid to President Anthony Carmona, British Queen’s Counsel Cathryn McGahey has advised.

However four letters written to the Commissioner of Police over the past three months requesting an investigation into the matter have still not been responded to or even acknowledged.

McGahey made the statement in legal advice provided to attorney Justin Phelps on October 24 for his client Rhoda Bharath.

A signed copy of that legal advice was sent to acting Police Commissioner Harold Philip in a letter dated October 31 as Stephen Williams was on vacation at the time.

The Sunday Guardian was able to see copies of the letter.

On March 18, 2013 Carmona assumed office as this country’s president. It was revealed that Carmona received a tax-free housing allowance of $28,000 a month from July 2013 to May 2015 despite also being provided with state accommodation at Flagstaff Hill.

As a result this, McGahey was asked to advise Bharath on whether a request to the Commissioner of Police for an investigation into misconduct in public office on the part of the President, his secretary Esther Daniel-Liverpool and Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) Stephanie Lewis was justified.

“The payment of the allowance has been the subject of public comment and concern since 2014, and politicians have sought to make inquiries, yet no complete and satisfactory explanation has yet been provided. It is entirely possible that everyone involved acted innocently and properly. However, on balance, I believe that a request for a police investigation is justified,” McGahey stated.

McGahey said one of the main reasons she felt the police investigation is justified is because “there is disquiet at the highest level of government about” the housing allowance payments.

In 2014, then finance minister Larry Howai referred the matter to then attorney general Anand Ramlogan.

Ramlogan sought the advice of then auditor general Sharman Ottley and the Office of the Solicitor General on the matter.

“The Auditor General, having apparently agreed in November 2014 to investigate, has not made a report (or, at least has not made a report that has been made public),” McGahey stated.

Ottley demitted office on April 6, 2015. On Thursday Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley reiterated that it is the auditor general’s duty to examine the issue.

“It appears to us that there is a requirement for the Auditor General, who is another arm of the State, to allay the public concerns, with respect to the propriety of that action. And if it is, as it appears, that public funds were improperly received by any officer- and I am not identifying any particular officer because in the public service from time to time matters of this nature would come to the Cabinet where there is an overpayment or an error and it is required to be rectified. But it usually comes after the Auditor General would have looked at the situation and make a determination as to whether public funds have been improperly received by the officer. And it think that is a good enough place for this matter to be properly rectified, failing which the (public) unease that exists, will continue,” Rowley stated.

Majeed Ali is currently this country’s Auditor General.

Rowley made the comments in response to a Sunday Guardian story last week in which the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) distanced itself from Carmona’s housing allowance. McGahey said there are “reasonable grounds to suspect that a request for the allowance was made on the President’s behalf and with his knowledge, despite his statement to the effect that he did not solicit the payment”.

Carmona addressed the situation during a televised address to the nation on September 28, 2016. “It is entirely possible that everyone involved acted innocently and/ or that the Flagstaff accommodation was unsuitable for the President and his family. However, it is equally possible that one or more of those involved in facilitating, making and receiving these payments acted wrongfully,” McGahey stated.

“Public money is involved and suspicion is inevitably aroused by the fact that an investigation by the Auditor General was promised but does not seem to have taken place.

The case is finely balanced but I believe that there are at the moment reasonable grounds to suspect that the offence of misconduct in public office has been committed,” she stated.

“It is possible that further investigation will reveal correspondence to indicate that those involved in seeking or providing the allowance did not truly believe the President to be entitled to it, or were reckless as to whether he was. Equally, those investigations may show that everyone involved acted in good faith, whether or not the allowance was in fact payable on the true construction of the SRC Report. A proper and independent investigation should reveal the true picture,” McGahey stated.

The 98th Report of the SRC was adopted by the House of Representatives in March 2014 “and so can be taken as an authoritative statement of the President’s entitlements,” McGahey stated.

The Sunday Guardian unsuccessfully attempted to contact Williams to determine if an investigation had begun into the matter of the housing allowance paid to Carmona.

On November 28, Phelps wrote Williams stating that he had not received a response to any of the three previous letters he sent to the Commissioner of Police’s office.

“Reference is made to my letters dated 26th October, 2016, 31st October, 2016 and 11th November, 2016 on the subject matter. I have not had any reply to any of my said letters, not even an acknowledgement,” Phelps wrote.

“I am respectfully asking for such acknowledgement and reply please, so that I may advise my client accordingly,” he stated.