Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is lamenting that this country’s “system” is encouraging white-collar crime. And he says the criminals are very much aware of this and in some cases are even celebrated in Trinidad and Tobago.
“There are people in our system, in our country, who run interference for criminals. In fact, right now, some criminals are heroes, I don’t want to call any names,” Dr Rowley said during a media conference at the Diplomatic Centre in Port-of-Spain.
He was responding to questions from Guardian Media’s Consultant Business Editor Anthony Wilson, who reminded the Prime Minister that the country is still waiting for justice to be served to the so-called “big fish” criminals in society.
“Do you agree that in the almost 61 years of this country’s independence, no ‘big fish’ with regard to white-collar crime has been taken down and would you not agree that fact has consequences for the prevalence for white-collar crimes in this country?” Wilson asked.
“Absolutely,” Dr Rowley replied immediately, “Our system does not discourage, on the contrary, I regret to say it has encouraged white-collar criminal conduct.”
The Prime Minister then recounted a specific situation that “irks” him.
“There was a situation inside the Parliament, where a staff member used his station to steal money inside the Parliament. We were made aware of it, we knew who the person was, and nothing has happened about it.”
The PM then spoke of another situation which he said took place in the private sector.
“An officer stole $5 million from a business house and that business house has been trying to get the Fraud Squad interested in prosecuting that matter and you know how I know that, they complain to me. But what can I do? I don’t run the Fraud Squad, and the person actually wrote a note saying they stole the money, so I can tell you Anthony (Wilson), I know the frustrations because I live here.”
The Prime Minister said what is frightening is that public officeholders like the Opposition Leader and members of the United National Congress are trying to normalise this situation.
“Feeling sorry for persons before the court, promoting them and advancing them in the Parliament, what do you think it does to the criminal element when they see a man in Parliament on a million dollars bail? What do you think young people in school would think when they’re coming up in this country and saying ‘if they lock me up and I’m on bail, I could still get my job’?”
He added, “We had a chairman of a corporation here charged with bribery, and he was still allowed to chair the corporation, in Sangre Grande. Another one was charged with bribery, he was running the tenders committee in the corporation, those are standards that the population must reject as out of hand.”
The Prime Minister accused Persad-Bissessar for seeming to stick up for the DPP as a way of “currying favour” from him.
Dr Rowley reiterated that as a member of the Executive arm of Government he cannot prosecute anyone.
“I know this country and I know about this country and what I can tell you is that this Government is not going to protect wrongdoing and we will not be shying away from pursuing it, but there’s a limit to what the Executive can do.”
He said in order for this country to get its independence, some arrangements were agreed to, which he described as inimical to good order.
On Monday, Independent Senator Anthony Vieira announced that he will be bringing a motion to the Senate which will request that the Constitution be reviewed for its relevance in a modern context.
Asked if he believes it is time for constitutional reform, Rowley said, “I heard my friend Basdeo Panday saying that yesterday, but what exactly in the Constitution you want to change? What aspect of the Constitution you want to reform? Because that catch-all phrase of constitutional reform, what exactly are you going to reform?
“I say this whole question of super independence of independent service commissions is something that needs to be looked at in modern Trinidad and Tobago, it has created models that are inimical to good order and it damages good management.”
However, the Prime Minister said that discussion is for another time.