The investigative work of the Integrity Commission is much different to that of the T&T Police Service (TTPS).
The power and jurisdiction of the commission are defined and delineated by the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA) and any attempt by the commission to investigate a matter outside the scope of the act would be null and void.
It means, therefore, that the commission can only investigate a matter that falls within the Integrity in Public Life Act and the person being investigated must be a person in public life or exercising a public function.
The police, on the other hand, can investigate any matter and any person.
After the detention of Marlene McDonald earlier this month there was a lot of criticism levelled at the Integrity Commission, as it had cleared her of any wrongdoing on the same matters that the police eventually laid charges.
Over the past decade, the Integrity Commission's budget wavered—between $11 and $17 million annually.
Guardian Media reached out to the Integrity Commission to better understand its role and function in determining wrongdoing in similar cases.
In response to questions by Guardian Media, Integrity Commission chairman Justice Melville Baird defended the organisation and its work.
"The police have powers of arrest; the commission has no such powers, the police have the powers of search and seizure under the authority of a search warrant. In an investigation, therefore, the police can obtain a search warrant and take away an Everest of evidence; the commission has no such powers of search and seizure," the Integrity Commission said.
"The commission does not have the authority to share information in the course of its investigations with other agencies; the police, on the other hand, can share information with anyone in the course of their investigations.
"The commission cannot charge anyone with an offence. If the commission is satisfied on the information before it, that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence has been committed it must refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. And that information on which the matter is sent cannot amount to suppositions, suggestions or suspicions; the matter must be based on evidence capable of belief."
According to the Integrity Commission, it does have the ability to call upon investigators within the police service in the course of investigations.
"But this power cannot be exercised whimsically; it must be exercised when the commission considers it appropriate to do so. This is a judgment call for the commission but there must be proper material before the commission which it could give to the police and on which the police could act," the commission stated.
An individual who does not have the information the commission has before it, therefore, might be hard-pressed to say whether the commission should or should not have used the services or draw on the expertise of the police.
In 2016 Gordon called for strengthening investigative capacity of IC
In 2016, then Integrity Commission chairman Ken Gordon requested that the IPLA Act be amended to give it more power to conduct investigations. According to that report to Parliament, the IC said the "responsibility to conduct effective investigations is facilitated by the provision of the necessary resources, principally legislative, human and technical." In this regard, it said the ability of the commission would be enhanced by constructive and partial amendments to the act then being undertaken so as to facilitate the acquisition of pertinent information/evidence central to the investigative process. It said it was imperative this exercise was completed at the earliest possible time to strengthen the investigative capacity of the commission."
But several chairmen changed since then and the amendment was pushed on the back-burner.
The proposed amendments were agreed to by the stakeholders, with the commission making a few minor changes.
On November 2, 2018, the proposed amendments were re-submitted for the consideration of Cabinet.
"We await final word on the matter," the commission stated.
This is what the Integrity in Public Life Act states:
The Commission shall—
(a) carry out those functions and exercise the powers specified in this Act;
(b) receive, examine and retain all declarations filed with it under this Act;
(c) make such enquiries as it considers necessary in order to verify or determine the accuracy of a declaration filed under this Act;
(d) c compile and maintain a Register of Interests;
(e) receive and investigate complaints regarding any alleged breaches of this Act or the commission or any suspected offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act;
(f) investigate the conduct of any person falling under the purview of the Commission which, in the opinion of the Commission, may be considered dishonest or conducive to corruption;
(g) examine the practices and procedures of public bodies, in order to facilitate the discovery of corrupt practices;
(h) instruct, advise and assist the heads of public bodies of changes in practices or procedures which may be necessary to reduce the occurrence of corrupt practices;
(i) carry out programs of public education intended to foster an understanding of standard of integrity;
(j) perform such other functions and exercise such powers as are required by this Act.
(2) In the exercise of its powers and performance of its functions under this Act, the Commission
(a) shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority;
(b) may in all cases where it considers it appropriate to do so, make use of the services or draw upon the expertise of any law enforcement agency or the Public Service;
(c) shall have the power to authorise investigations, summon witnesses, require the production of any reports, documents, other relevant information, and to do all such things as considers necessary or expedient for the purpose of carrying out its functions.
10 matters forwarded to DPP
In the past decade, the IC examined hundreds of matters and completed several without any action taken against the individuals. However, despite the number of matters investigated, only ten investigations against top-ranking members of government and state officials have been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for police investigation.
Guardian Media examined Integrity Commission reports to Parliament from 2009-2019 and found that three matters were referred to the DPP in 2012, another five were sent to the DPP in 2013 and in 2014, two matters were sent to the DPP.
While the DPP's office does not conduct its own investigations, the matters are sent to the TTPS for examination.
Matters referred to DPP
1. A complaint of misappropriation of State funds by a Director on the Board of National Commission for Self Help Ltd. According to the Integrity report, interviews were completed, statements obtained and the matter was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
2. Emanating from an article in the print media, the commission initiated an investigation to determine whether a government minister was in breach of the IPLA in the award of a contract by the ministry to a relative’s company. The IC said that statements were recorded and documents were obtained and analysed.
3. Complaint by Mirror Group Publication Ltd alleging unfair treatment in the disbursement of state resources for advertising purposes. Interviews were conducted, documents obtained and analysed, statements recorded.
1. Complaints alleging breaches of the IPLA by the Ministry of Culture in the award of scholarship grants. Interviews conducted and statements obtained.
2. 60 complaints alleging breaches of the IPLA by the Ministry of Culture in the award of scholarship grants. Interviews conducted and statements obtained.
3. 61 Complaints alleging breaches of the IPLA by the Ministry of Culture in the award of scholarship grants. Interviews conducted and statements obtained.
4. 62 Complaint alleging breach of the IPLA by members of the T&T Boxing Board of Control in hiring practices. Interviews conducted and statements obtained.
5. 63 Complaint alleging a breach of the IPLA by a former chairman of Udecott in the award of a contract to construct the Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower. Interviews conducted and statements obtained.
1. A complaint of corruption against a former prime minister in respect to an agreement entered into with the Jamaat al Muslimeen. People interviewed, statements recorded, and documents obtained. Report sent to the DPP.
2. A complaint of corruption against a former prime minister in respect to an agreement entered into with the Jamaat al Muslimeen Persons interviewed, statements recorded and documents obtained.
Integrity Commission controversies
The Integrity Commission, over the past decade, has been mired in controversy that led to a rapid changing of the chairmen.
Before chairman Eric St Cyr was appointed in 2009, the entire previous board was forced to resign after it lost an expensive legal matter against Dr Keith Rowley. Just months into his tenure, St Cyr stepped into trouble when he disclosed details of an investigation before speaking to the principal of the investigation.
He was replaced by media magnate Ken Gordon who also faced public criticisms after he admitted to privately meeting with then opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley before the Emailgate matter was disclosed in Parliament and officially referred to the commission.
His successor, Zainool Hosein also came under fire and had two of his commissioners quit under his watch.
When he resigned, deputy commissioner Judge Sebastien Ventour said he could not continue to work in the organisation.
All members of the Integrity Commission resigned six months before the end of their joint tenures after Dr Keith Rowley successfully sued the commission and won $900,000 in court. The new commission was appointed on May 1, 2009.
2009-2011 Eric St Cyr
Early in 2009, St Cyr publicly said that then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar should have avoided staying at the family home of the owners of Gopaul and Company.
At that time the opposition PNM raised questions over a procurement process at NP in relation to a $40 million CDS Ltd/Gopaul and Company joint contract proposal.
Two days after St Cyr's comments on the Gopaul matter, the Opposition referred the matter to the Integrity Commission.
St Cyr then had to recuse himself from the commission probe of the Prime Minister, given his comments.
Persad-Bissessar was later cleared by the commission.
In another matter, St Cyr in another public comment on June 20, 2010, when the issue of then works minister Jack Warner's post as a then FIFA vice-president was raised.
St Cyr said then that Warner should be made to chose between one post or the other. Though the Integrity Commission had confirmed that the matter was before it, St Cyr gave a personal view on the issue.
St Cyr was also head of the commission when it investigated accusations that Jearlean John's daughter got several HDC contracts while John was chairman.
St Cyr revealed this to the public before John was informed that she was being investigated.
2011-2013 Ken Gordon
Kenneth Gordon was appointed on November 01, 2011, for a period of three years. His term was expected to expire on October 31, 2014. However, he left before that.
Gordon came under fire for meeting privately with then opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley several days before he (Rowley) exposed the details of the Emailgate fiasco.
It was revealed that he and Gordon met privately just days before Rowley raised the matter in Parliament.
The Emailgate matter remained alive but on the back burner for years and it was only in 2019 that Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith declared the investigation closed.
2013-2017 Zainool Hosein
Hosein faced allegations that he worked closely and even shared chambers with then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's personal lawyer, Israel Khan.
He was the head of the commission when it cleared Persad-Bissessar of any wrongdoing in the Emailgate issue. That issue was what triggered the resignation of deputy chairman Justice Sebastien Ventour, who said then that the actions within the IC went against the oath he swore.
2017-to present—Melville Baird
Matters sent to the IC
9 brought forward
23 complaints received
25 under investigation
26 brought forward
24 brought forward
6 investigations initiated
73 under investigation
31 brought forward
83 complaints received
3 referred to DPP
36 brought forward
35 brought forward
40 complaints brought forward
27 brought forward
14 complaints received
27 brought forward