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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Last week, the Integrity Commission published a Notice in the daily newspapers providing a list of names of people in public life “who have failed to file Declarations of Income, Assets and Liabilities and Statements of Registrable Interests with the Integrity Commission.”

The list of names covers the period 2003–2014 and reveals a wide cross section of people who are drawn from all political persuasions or no identifiable persuasion.

Many of the people named have been cited before in this annual exercise carried out by the Integrity Commission. This is a continuing process and apparently there has been little success in having these people file their declarations and statements with the commission over the 12-year period covered by the revelation of these names.

On the flip side of this, there have been very few prosecutions against people in relation to failure to make certain declarations over the years. Only two Wednesdays ago, former minister of energy in the Panday administration, Finbar Gangar, had the charges laid against him dismissed.

He had been carrying that burden since June 2004, when he was charged under the Integrity in Public Life Act in respect of allegations that he failed to make certain declarations. The best that the State could say when the matter came up for hearing for the umpteenth time was that the prosecution had no evidence to offer against the accused. 

According to reporter Derek Achong writing in the Guardian on May 19 instant:

“Former Government Minister Finbar Gangar yesterday was freed of two charges for failing to declare his foreign bank accounts to the Integrity Commission. Magistrate Christine Charles discharged Gangar in the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court after prosecutors from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) indicated that they could offer no evidence against him. State prosecutor Norma Peters explained to Charles her office had evidential issues due to the protracted charges which were laid on Gangar almost 12 years ago.”

Between the list of names of people in public life published last week and the decision of the magistrate in the Finbar Gangar matter the week before, it is very apparent that the entire integrity process in this country is in shambles. The fact that the best that the State could do after 12 years of prosecution is to offer no evidence against the accused says it all.

However, Finbar Gangar is not the only person to be faced with a lengthy prosecutorial process. Former prime minister Basdeo Panday also had his fair share of difficulties with allegations of failure to declare assets and liabilities to the Integrity Commission before he was finally discharged in 2012 by Magistrate Marcia Murray and the subsequent application for judicial review against Murray’s decision by the DPP was dismissed by Justice James Aboud in 2014.

Basdeo Panday was charged on September 18, 2002, in the midst of the 2002 general election campaign. The general election was held on October 7, 2002, and the laying of the charges during that campaign had an impact on the court of public opinion on election day, long before the law courts handled his matter.

The case started before then chief magistrate Sherman Mc Nicholls in 2003 and the case did not actually commence until March 2006, after a constitutional motion by Panday had been dismissed in the interim. On April 24, 2006, Mc Nicholls found Panday guilty of the charges and sentenced him to two years in jail with hefty fines.

Panday appealed the conviction and on March 20, 2007, the Court of Appeal overturned the conviction imposed by Mc Nicholls on the ground of bias by Mc Nicholls against Panday and ordered a retrial. The retrial was opposed by Panday who appealed to the Privy Council and they dismissed his appeal on April 9, 2008.

In a related matter, the State discontinued its prosecution against then chief justice Satnarine Sharma on March 5, 2007, because its star witness Mc Nicholls went into the witness box to give evidence against Sharma and then refused to do so causing the case to collapse. 

Meanwhile, the retrial ordered by the Court of Appeal for Panday was listed for July 31, 2007, before Magistrate Ejenny Espinet. Panday sought judicial review of her refusal to recuse herself. Madam Justice Judith Jones overturned Espinet’s decision on November 24, 2009, and referred it to another magistrate.

On June 13, 2011, the second retrial started before Magistrate Marcia Murray and on June 26, 2012, she dismissed the case against Panday on the ground of abuse of process as the Integrity Commission had failed to appoint a tribunal to investigate the allegations against Panday before prosecution.

Instead of an appeal, the DPP proceeded by way of judicial review which was filed on September 21, 2012 and on April 11, 2014, Mr Justice James Aboud refused the grant of any order permitting a continuation of the prosecution against Panday.

After 12 years in the court system, both UNC public officials, Basdeo Panday (2002-2014) and Finbar Gangar (2004-2016), eventually got closure either on the ground of abuse of process or no evidence being offered.


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