By Marcia Braveboy
Caribbean News Now Senior Correspondent
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- Four members were appointed to the Trinidad and Tobago Integrity Commission on Monday; however, embattled chairman Ken Gordon remained in place.
President Anthony Carmona
In a news release, President Anthony Carmona revealed the names of the members that will constitute the newly appointed commission.
Retired Justice Sebastian Ventour; chartered accountant Seunarine Jokhoo, a returning member from the previous commission; petroleum and environmental engineer Deonarine Jaggernauth; and ophthalmologist and surgeon Dr Shelly-Anne Lalchan will join Gordon to get the business of the commission going.
According to the statement from the President’s Office, “The oath of office will be administered to the new members of the commission soon.”
The new commissioners will have two main challenges on their hands as soon as they get down to work. The first is to investigate the controversial email scandal and the second will be to ensure they can carry out the business of the commission free of the ruckus and scandals that plagued previous commissions.
The term of the last four members expired in March of this year and, as usual, appointing new commissioners has been as daunting a task for this president as it was for former President George Maxwell Richards, mainly because of the public scrutiny to which members in that position are subjected and citizens are often reluctant to volunteer to serve in that capacity.
Former chairman of the commission Eric St Cyr resigned prematurely after disclosing information to the media of an investigation into Housing Development Corporation managing director Jearlean John without first letting her know. Gordon succeeded St Cyr in the post.
Another member of that previous commission, Ann-Marie Bissessar, became a controversial figure when it was discovered that she was the cousin of the husband of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, making her the prime minister’s relative (cousin-in-law).
The opposition called for Bissessar to step down or to recuse herself from matters that were before the commission to investigate the prime minister. Bissessar recused herself when such matters came up.
And now calls are being made from several quarters, including former deputy chairman of the Integrity Commission Gladys Gafoor, for Gordon to recuse himself from the email scandal matter which was brought before the commission by opposition leader Keith Rowley for investigation.
The calls follow revelations that Gordon and the opposition leader met at the home of the chairman to discuss the purported email exchanges that allegedly took place between email addresses said to belong to Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, works and infrastructure and local government minister Suruj Rattan Rambachan and Captain Gary Griffith, adviser to the prime minister on national security matters.
While Rowley has made it clear he did not think Gordon should resign over the controversial meeting, he has not stated his position on whether or not Gordon should recuse himself from investigations into the email scandal that left both the opposition and the government in an uproar and the country divided on the issue.
Rowley had first taken the batch of emails to former President Richards, who passed it to the Integrity Commission for the matter to be investigated. On June 3, Gordon handed over the email documents to the police as the Commission could not act on the matter without a constituted quorum of members.
Superintendent Baldeo Nanan and his team of investigators met with the Commission’s registrar Martin Farrel and questioned him on the batch of 31 purported email messages now known as “emailgate” in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Trinidad and Tobago police service is investigating the hard copy emails at this time. But the opposition leader preferred the investigations to be conducted by the Integrity Commission; one of the first tasks that will bring the new-look commission into the public spotlight.
Both the opposition and government also agreed that an independent investigation should be conducted into the e-mails, which technology specialists and computer forensic experts say is riddled with errors, like invalid e-mail addresses, invalid dates, a message from a .con address and not the valid .com address, also in the from field a message was seen to be sent from two e-mail addresses at the same time, which is not possible. Messages can be sent to numerous persons via e-mail but it cannot come from more than one or several persons.
The ghosts of integrity commissioners past
The Integrity Commission’s woes date back to 2003, when then chairman, insurance executive Vindar Dean-Maharaj, had to recuse himself from a land dispute brought against then government minister Keith Rowley (now opposition leader) and eventually resigned as chairman after a high court lawsuit showed that the commission had written to then Prime Minister Patrick Manning for advice on how to proceed with the matter.
Businessman and former CLICO director John Martin succeeded Dean-Maharaj as integrity chairman. The ruling in the land dispute brought an avalanche of trouble for the entire commission. It was revealed that the commission had prematurely sent the matter to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and thereby guilty of a “tort of misfeasance”, causing all commission members to resign.
From January to May 2009 there was no Integrity Commission. Catholic priest Father Henry Charles (now deceased) was then appointed chairman of the new five member team but had to resign one week later after being accused of plagiarism. The disclosure was made by senior journalist Kevin Baldeosingh, who pointed out that Charles had copied over 300 words already published in the New York Times by psychologist Richard E. Nesbitt. Charles also lifted a column by Catholic scholar Darrin Belousek. Charles who held a degree in ethics from Yale University said he told then President Richards of his mistakes before accepting the post of chair of the commission. In addition, there was a big debate as to whether or not Charles could served on the commission in the first place because of Canon law.
In 2010, former President Richards appointed St Cyr as chairman of the commission; but he too had to resign over his premature disclosure of information to the media on a matter being investigated by the commission.
Media mogul Ken Gordon took up the position of commission chairman in 2011 and is now himself plagued with controversy following the meeting held at his home with opposition leader Rowley to discuss the email scandal that Rowley rocked the parliament with on May 20. The meeting between Rowley and Gordon took place on May 15, five days before the no-confidence motion that Rowley filed against the government to disclose the details of the purported emails containing criminal allegations against certain top government officials.
Brief biographical data on the appointed commissioners as presented by the Office of the President:
Justice Sebastian Ventour (retired) has had a distinguished 34-year legal career. He was senior partner at the law firm of Fitzwilliam, Stone, Furness-Smith and Morgan and a judge in the Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago for 14 years. He has also served at the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago, both as secretary and as a member of the Disciplinary Committee.
Justice Ventour (retired) currently lectures at the Hugh Wooding Law School, where he has taught for 22 years. He is married, with three children.
Seunarine Jokhoo is a returning member of the Integrity Commission, having previously been appointed to serve a three-year term on March 15, 2010. A chartered accountant, he has a 35-year history in the public service, from which he retired as Director of State Enterprises and acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry. He also worked in the private sector as financial controller of Amar Holdings Limited, general manager and director of the Citrus Growers Association and executive chairman of National Fisheries Company Limited. Jokhoo has chaired and served on numerous boards. An avid farmer, he is married with four children.
Deonarine Jaggernauth has given 33 years of service to the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (Petrotrin), formerly TRINTOC and will be retiring in a few weeks. A petroleum and environmental engineer by profession, Jaggernauth is a researcher who has published many papers and received several awards including the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ Distinguished Member Award in 2005. A part-time lecturer at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), he is also current vice president of the TRINTOC Penal Credit Union. Jaggernauth is a lay-minister at the St Benedict’s Roman Catholic Church.
Dr Shelly-Anne Lalchan, a leading ophthalmologist and surgeon, is a Fellow of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, Member of the American Academy of Ophthalmologists, Member of the International Society of Glaucoma Surgery and founder of the West Indian Society of Glaucoma Surgeons (WINGS). Having spent the majority of her medical career practicing in the United Kingdom, she has returned home where she is currently in private practice. She is also an associate lecturer in postgraduate ophthalmology with the University of the West Indies at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex. Lalchan is quietly engaged in social work in her professional area of expertise. She is married to a medical doctor and is the proud mother of one.