Hinds argued that the Prime Minister’s stay at the residence, which dated as far back as when she was Opposition Leader and was campaigning for the May 24, 2010, general election, constitutes a gift within the meaning of the Integrity in Public Life Act and may have to be declared to the Commission.
The deadline for the filing of interests, assets and income to the Integrity Commission is May 31.
“This use, occupation or benefit, was a gift from her friend Mr Ralph Gopaul, within the meaning of the Integrity in Public Life Act and if not declared, may be in violation of same,” Hinds wrote in a letter bearing yesterday’s date, emailed to the media by the Office of the Opposition Leader.
Hinds also suggested the Commission led by Eric St Cyr, should also examine other legal issues.
“In addition, it is the Prime Minister who as Chairman of the Cabinet would have overseen the appointment of the chairman and board of NP. Further, the Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, was appointed to that office by the said Prime Minister, the former, having responsibility for NP,” he wrote. He asked that the Commission probe whether a misconduct in public office has occurred.
Hinds noted that there is uncertainty over whether or not a contract has been awarded to Gopaul and Company Limited. “Thus far, the Prime Minister and other members of Cabinet have denied the issuance of a contract to Mr Gopaul, but I have reasonable grounds to believe that given the termination of the contract of the existing contractor/provider, that a contract was in fact being awarded to Mr Gopaul or an entity associated with him.”
Hinds argued that the award of a contract to the Gopauls by NP would constitute preferential treatment and the failure of public officials to act in a fair and impartial manner.
“Please be advised that I have taken steps under the Freedom of Information Act, to access further details in this regard, but this information, may not be immediately forthcoming,” Hinds noted in the three-page letter.
“In the circumstances, and in order to ensure that the dignity of the offices of persons in public life is immediately observed and preserved, I refer to your Commission, the entire matter touching and concerning the conduct of the Prime Minister, as it relates to her occupation of the residence and also the conduct of the Prime Minister and the Board of Management of NP, in respect of the probable issuance of the contract aforementioned, for your attention and investigation.”
Hinds’ letter came as the local chapter of Transparency International raised questions in relation to the NP contract issue, saying it demonstrated the need for the urgent implementation of procurement legislation.
“The new procurement legislation will ensure that public expenditure is undertaken within framework of accountability, transparency and value for money,” TTTI said in a press release. “The application of discretion in the award of contracts will be minimised if not eliminated with monitoring of awards by the Procurement Regulator. Abuse of process will be discouraged by the penalties for breach and the protection of whistle-blowers. The Government must take the necessary steps to promulgate the legislation now. It will serve not only to safeguard the public purse but also to guide and protect those involved in public procurement and spare the political directorate from having to divert its attention from more pressing matters of state to deal with issues that will be routinely handled by the Procurement Regulator.”