As the Government lobbies the President to remove Integrity Commission chairman Eric St Cyr, the Opposition has formally called on the commission to probe alleged misconduct on the part of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar regarding her stay at a Tunapuna house and a $40m NP contract. PNM senator Fitzgerald Hinds who first raised concerns on the issue, wrote the commission yesterday, presenting a prima facie case on the matter. Hinds said issues and allegations had been raised in respect of the alleged NP contract award in which the existing contractor had been terminated, and the proposed new contractor is alleged to be the owner of the Tunapuna residence.
Noting that Persad-Bissessar occupied a Pasea, Tunapuna, house after her appointment to office last May, Hinds said the circumstances of the situation raised prima facie reasonable grounds to suspect Persad-Bissessar might have committed misconduct in public office. Hinds stated: "I refer to your commission the entire matter touching and concerning the conduct of the Prime Minister as it relates to her occupation of the residence and also the conduct of the Prime Minister and board of NP in respect of the probable issuance of the contract." Hinds' request follows concerns raised by Opposition Leader Keith Rowley about the integrity of the process regarding the Prime Minister's stay at the Tunapuna house.
It also comes at the same time the Government has begun a lobby for the removal of commission chairman St Cyr, regarding St Cyr's recent statement that controversy over the NP matter would have been avoided if Persad-Bissessar had stayed at a hotel. PP Minister Jack Warner wrote President George Maxwell Richards yesterday, calling for St Cyr's removal, claiming St Cyr was biased in the PNM and Rowley's favour. Warner also wrote St Cyr directly asking him to resign. St Cyr, who says he has not thought of resigning, has said that it could be possible that he would recuse himself if the NP issue had to be probed by the commission.
In his letter to the commission, Hinds noted that he had tried to get answers on the NP and house issues through questions in the Senate.
But this was futile until Tuesday when he said PP Minister Roodal Moonilal admitted the Prime Minister had occupied the residence and that the owner Ralph Gopaul was a friend of hers. Hinds said Moonilal also said the Prime Minister incurred no expense or cost to be borne by the State regarding the occupancy. "I therefore surmise that this use, occupation or benefit was a gift from her friend Ralph Gopaul within the meaning of the Integrity in Public Life Act and if not declared may be in violation of same," he said. Hinds noted that the Prime Minister, as Cabinet chairman, would have overseen the appointment of an NP board. He said while the Government had denied issuance of a contract to Gopaul, he had "reasonable grounds" to believe that given the termination of the existing contractor, that a contract had been awarded to Gopaul or "an entity associated with him."
Hinds said a prima facie case had been raised on the above, that the Prime Minister at a minimum supported a decision which:
• Afforded undue preferential treatment to Gopaul; and
• Provided a benefit to and/or improperly advanced the interest of the Gopauls and/or their company and resulted in a failure to exercise her public duty in a fair, impartial manner.
On calls for commission chairman St Cyr's removal, Hinds said: "I must admit Dr St Cyr's comments were a little bit early, but I don't consider them to be fatal to his office or to the commission's capacity to do its work under the law. "Calling on the President to remove Dr St Cyr is another example of excitability -it's taking things too far," he said. "I don't consider what Dr St Cyr has said to be fatal...He is only one man and he can recuse himself from the commission as it continues to do its work."