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.