Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday warned those involved in corruption, fraud and white-collar crime to watch out, as the proclamation of the Criminal Division and District Criminal and Traffic Courts will now go after wrongdoers.
Cabinet yesterday agreed that on December 1 the proclamation will go into effect.
The legislation is geared towards tackling corruption and complex fraud cases and will utilise specialised judges and magistrates to deal with corruption and white-collar cases in court.
Speaking at yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, Rowley spoke at length on three issues, procurement, secrecy and white-collar crime and corruption, saying there was a view by some that “all ah we thief” in referring to his Government.
But in the last three years Rowley said his Government has been open and transparent to the population. He said his Government has been accused of not following proper procurement processes and operating in secrecy, but this behaviour was in fact the trademark of the People’s Partnership administration.
Touching on white-collar crime, Rowley said he had no idea how corrupt T&T was until he assumed office in 2015.
“The information that comes to me on a regular basis in the conduct of public affairs tells me that the people of T&T need to be aware of the extent of the insidious corruption that permeates this country and its business…in the private and public sectors,” he said.
He said a lot of the private sector activities were interrelated to public sector business and “white collar crime is a national cancer in T&T” which his Government intends to fight head-on.
“In our society, a large proportion of our citizens believe that the law is only applicable to the downtrodden and oppressed in certain communities and therefore white-collar crime is above the law.”
Rowley said what this Government “is doing is making it clear to all citizens that nobody is above the law,” adding white-collar crime was just as detrimental to citizens’ well-being as the violent crimes seen every day.
“And those who believe they could commit the white-collar crime and get away because the systems don’t work they have another thought coming because we are changing the systems to make the system work.”
Rowley also spoke about the major development that occurred on Monday involving one of the biggest cases of alleged white-collar crime in T&T to reach the courts. He said the Court of Appeal had authorised the Estate Management Business Development Company (EMBD) to follow the money in its pursuit of alleged wrongdoing.
The matter involves the EMBD, where people are accused of bribery, collusion and dishonest conduct in the award of the Caroni Road contract.
The court ruled that the “EMBD has sufficient information to warrant its request to pursue persons by following the money that was paid by the company to certain individuals for whom Dr Roodal Moonilal had responsibility for.”
A total of approximately $400 million was paid out on the eve of the 2015 general elections under these contracts.
The PM said for the first time public officers and their associates would be before the court to account for specific actions. He said such a case had serious implications.
“It should be possible to hold public office and leave and not be afraid of every police uniform you see or every siren you hear,” Rowley said. “I want to let you know this has nothing to do with any personality.”
Rowley warned that his Government was not about “corruption talk” but action. He said they expect many other corruption matters to go before the courts.
“Because many other government agencies have found information which they have converted to evidence and have identified persons who have questions to answer and those matters are to be dealt with properly in a place of law,” he said.