PM- “White-collar crime a National Cancer in T&T”

Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley has  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.”

“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.

Rowley said this is not the only corruption matter which will be coming to the courts. While some claim these matters are being dealt with in secrecy, the PM declared, “That secrecy is only temporary because at the end of the day it is all going to come out in the wash.”

Expressing surprise the media was unaware of the court’s ruling and the far reaching implications of this decision, Rowley produced a Cabinet note dated December 4, 2014, to show the then People’s Partnership government breached procurement procedures in its $228 million acquisition of the TTS Nelson from the Chinese government for the Coast Guard.

He said the contract to execute the vessel’s purchase was dated July 13, 2015. The protocol of delivery and acceptance for the TTS Nelson II was signed on September 6, 2015, 24 hours before the general election. Rowley said this was in sharp contrast to the transparent manner that he briefed the population about Government’s intention to purchase two Cape Class vessel from Australia for the Coast Guard.

The PM said the Opposition was also misleading the population about confidentiality and non-disclosure clauses in contracts were “a harbinger of corruption.” Rowley explained this was standard in all government to government and commercial arrangements. He observed the PP had no issue in signing the contract to purchase the TTS Nelson II with those clauses intact. Referring to former minister Wendell Mottley being awarded the Order of the Republic of TT hours earlier, Rowley said people must see public service as honourable again not something flavoured by corruption.

Communications Minister Stuart Young said Government’s efforts to fight corruption will be bolstered by the proclamation of the Criminal Division and District Criminal and Traffic Court Act on December 1. Young said this will allow the court to properly deal with a host of corruption matters and also long standing traffic matters which create a backlog in the court system. On the latter, Young said matters could be dealt with by telephone or video-conferencing if necessary.

Rowley said UNC MP Dr Roodal Moonilal’s attempt to blame the PNM for flooding in Greenvale was an attempt to distract public attention from serious developments in court regarding corruption. The PM promised to speak to the media today at the Parliament at 11.30 am about all issues pertaining to Greenvale.

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