By Jada Loutoo Wednesday, June 13 2012
SUSPENDED Integrity Commission vice-chairman Gladys Gafoor had been accused of using “boorish behaviour,” threatening violence and insulting fellow commissioners as contents of the “secret letters” sent to President George Maxwell Richards in their complaints of her, have been made public.
The letters, which formed part of two public law claims brought by Gafoor against the Integrity Commission, are now public record following a landmark ruling on Monday by Justice Vashiest Kokaram, who is presiding over the claims.
In his ruling, Kokaram said this case was not one which required protection, as it was public litigation.
He ordered that the Registrar of the Supreme Court place all filings in the case on the public record as he also quashed his earlier ruling, on March 29, for prohibition from disclosure of the documents, which carried with it a contempt of court warning.
Kokaram’s judgment ruled against claims by the Integrity Commission that certain documents and evidence in Gafoor’s judicial review application and constitutional motion lawsuits required the protection of non-disclosure to protect the integrity of the institution and prevent loss of confidence.
Among the documents and evidence sought to be kept private by the Integrity Commission related to copies of three letters written in January by commission chairman Ken Gordon and commissioners Neil Rolingson, and Prof Ann Marie Bissessar.
The letters were dated January 20 (Bissessar’s letter), January 22 (Rolingson’s letter) and January 23 (Gordon’s letter).
According to the letters, which have been obtained by Newsday, Gordon told the President, it was necessary for him to advise of “an unfortunate situation” and offered to tender his resignation.
“This is as a result of an unwillingness of the deputy chairman to accept standards of behaviour which the commission is convinced are necessary if it is to build confidence and achieve credibility in the public eye,” Gordon wrote.
He accused Gafoor of refusing to abide by a decision taken on a vote of a particular matter and of challenging him when asked to return a letter circulated at a meeting.
“You want it come and take it nah,” was said to be Gafoor’s response to Gordon’s request for the return of the document.
“There was also a muttering about violence,” he reported.
“She has made statements to the commission and later denied having made them. This is substantiated by approved minutes of the commission,” he said.
Gafoor accused of
leaks to media
Gordon also accused Gafoor of leaking information to the media.
“There are other matters with which I will not burden this letter, but the Commission is being daily brought into public odium by ongoing leakages of its affairs to the media. In fact it is no longer possible for the Commission to function on the basis of confidentiality without attracting public ridicule,” Gordon stated. In her January 20 letter, Bissessar spoke of what she termed “challenges facing the Integrity Commission.”
She said having returned from a university trip to Jamaica, she found that Gafoor had issued a pre-action protocol letter to the commission and noted that she found it disturbing that “a member of the commission could file such an action against the very commission on which they sit.”
Bissessar said she had a number of concerns regarding the management of the commission and its affairs dating back to Prof Eric St Cyr’s chairmanship.
“For instance, immediately after we had been sworn in the commission, as a commissioner I found myself in a most uncomfortable position with Mrs Gaffoor constantly issuing insults to me as a commissioner and insinuating in a most vicious manner that I was in some way connected to the People’s National Movement, at that time the ruling party. I was, however, not the only person singled out for these insulting remarks. Mrs Gaffoor, at all times, also dominated the discussions, even engaging in disruptions of the remarks of the chair. She also constantly over-rode members of the commission and indeed dominated many of the matters of the commission. In many instances, when decisions were taken by the commission she later changed many of the commission’s decisions by redrafting the letters, suggesting that the letters were not clear enough. This, I understand, was the case with the Tesheria (former finance minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira) matter. She constantly alluded to the fact that you had appointed her as a member of the commission because she was a luminary in law matters and we were described to as non-lawyers,” Bissessar said in her letter which was the longest of the three sent to the President by herself and her colleagues.
The professor also cited incidents where Gafoor accused former director of investigations, retired police inspector Wellington Virgil of being unable to do his work and her (Gafoor’s) lack of confidence in him.
“Mr Virgil retired from this position, because he too seemed to be very uncomfortable with the direction in which the commission was heading. (It should be noted that he was involved in investigations involving Mrs Gaffoor),” Bissessar noted.
She also spoke of the deputy chairman’s insistence to hire the second candidate for the position of director of investigations, as she (Gafoor) knew him to be very good.
“I stoutly resisted this recommendation and then she asked the commission to re-interview candidates which again I stoutly resisted since to me this amounted to a contamination of the process. In another case, with respect to the Jack Warner matter, Mrs Gaffoor told the chairman to go to the newspaper to air our position. Again, I was appalled and resisted this recommendation,” Bissessar said.
Remarks about PM, AG
According to the professor, when the People’s Partnership assumed office, Gafoor began making “unkind remarks” relating to the Attorney General (Anand Ramlogan) and (Transport Minister) Devant Maharaj.
“She made comments that she could not talk openly since I was related to Mrs Persad- Bissessar (the Prime Minister) and these innuendoes have continued to this day,” she noted.
Bissessar said in the matter involving former attorney general John Jeremie, she stated that even if the perception of bias was not warranted as claimed by Jeremie, the fact that he expressed a lack of faith in Gafoor and fellow commissioner Seunarine Jokhoo, the perception will taint their decisions in his investigation.
“It would also have served to erode public confidence in the commission,” she said, noting that commission chairman Gordon has, at all times, involved all members in consultation and conducted himself with integrity in observing protocols.
She said Gafoor and Jokhoo were asked to recuse themselves and while Jokhoo acceded, Gafoor suggested that “no one could ask her to recuse herself.”
The members decided to hold a special meeting to discuss the merits of Jeremie’s request and Gafoor was said to have insisted that she be given it in writing.
“My expectation was that upon given such a letter she would recuse herself from that meeting,” Bissessar noted.
On the day the special meeting was convened, Gafoor was present while Jokhoo absented himself.
“She had a conversation with the chairman in his office and then came to the conference room and insisted that she sit in on the meeting although she would not comment. At that point the quorum consisting of myself, Mr Rolingson and Mr Gordon and took the decision that there was some merit in Mr Jeremie’s request and that a meeting should be held in which a resolution would be taken by the commission as to whether the members should be asked to recuse themselves,” Bissessar noted.
A resolution was subsequently taken to have the two recuse themselves from the Jeremie investigation.
“Matters have continued to deteriorate so badly that in our last meeting Mrs Gaffoor refused to return confidential letters to the Registrar and asked the Chair “if he wanted to come for (them) and if he wanted to engage in violence,” she complained in her letter to the President.
She further cited leaks to the media which she said have severely eroded the confidentiality of the commission.
“Sir, in my opinion, there is no way in which the commission can proceed with the business of the commission if Mrs Gaffoor continues to serve as a sitting member of the commission. The commission has now been reduced to a body which has been ridiculed throughout the country and the region and indeed this has severely impacted on my professional as well as my personal life. In the circumstances, unless some action is taken to address the problems I have outlined I have no choice but to resign from the commission in the near future since it cannot function effectively as it should,” Bissessar complained.
for boardroom only
Rolingson in his brief letter complained of the business of the commission being continuously compromised by the release of documentation to the media.
“Although there is no conclusive evidence as to the source of the ‘leaks’, it is indicative that their sudden appearance in the national media is tied to a breakdown in the relationship between our deputy chairman, Mrs Gladys Gaffoor and our chairman,” Rolingston noted.
“The nature of the leaks appears to be an attempt to bring into the public domain a matter that in my view should be handled and settled within the confines of the boardroom of the commission,” he said,
He accused Gafoor of using “very boorish behaviour” at meetings as he sought the President’s intervention.
On January 30, Gafoor fired off her own letter to the President, following their meeting on January 26.
She said she shared Richards’ concern about the way in which the commission’s business was being conducted and she was both perplexed and troubled by “the apparent lack of transparency and scrutiny” in matters before the body.
“It is expected that commissioners would be circumspect in the way they discharge their duties,” she said, as she sought to defend herself against attacks. She acknowledged an impasse between herself and Gordon as it related to the Jeremie investigation, but said her contention was that proper procedure was not being followed by the chairman and the other two commissioners as it related to the request for her to recuse herself.
She said she had not seen the allegations made against her by her fellow commissioners and could not comment on them, as she also emphasised that she was not responsible for information being released to the media.
As it related to the complaint about her behaviour, which was related to her by the President, Gafoor said her entire career as a legal practitioner has been dedicated towards the pursuit of excellence and failed to see how her behaviour could fall below a certain standard when that standard had not been clearly identified by her accuser.
She further questioned how her behaviour could contribute to a breakdown of relationships between herself and the other commissioners when they refused to speak with her since November 2011.
Gafoor in turn accused Gordon of being “extremely aggressive” towards her by shouting at her during meetings. She said that behaviour was unbecoming of his position as well as demeaning to her as a lady.
She accused him of wanting to embarrass and humiliate her and cause disunity and division within the commission.
Gafoor also said if it was true that the work of the commission could not be accomplished, it was because of the suspension of meetings by Gordon.
She further defended herself against attacks against her, emphatically stating that she was not in receipt of any confidential documents belonging to the commission; was within her right to object to any vote for her recusal; has not been insulting to commissioners or staff.
“Indeed I remain mystified by this complaint as well,” she said of the latter accusation against her.
Pointing out that she was the only lawyer on the commission, Gafoor said she has never used intimidating attitude towards any member, rather, tried to assist her colleagues by seeking to explain legal matters to them.
“Any allegation that I am responsible for undermining public confidence surely cannot be laid at my door,” she said, as she pointed out that those accusations were based on the subjective views of three members.
Gafoor suggested to the President that if Gordon, Bissessar and Rolingson wished to voluntarily resign then that was “their personal decision.”
“And if this will assist in the work of the commission, then so be it.”
“It is passing strange that the complaints which have regrettably taken up Your Excellency’s valuable time have nothing to do with the issue of my recusal but rather dwell on personal issues which have little or nothing to do with the work of the commission as a whole and which amount to petty allegations which are patently untrue, lack merit or substance and perhaps are clearly designed to further embarrass me as well as revealing more about the authors than anything else,” she said in a direct attack on her accusers.
In her two claims, Gafoor is questioning the decision to force her to recuse herself from the Jeremie investigation and wants the courts to have it quashed.
She is also seeking aggravated and/or exemplary damages for “serious damage to my professional reputation and integrity.” Gafoor, who was appointed to the post in 2009, was suspended on February 9 by the President, who then appointed a three-member tribunal to probe the allegations against her.
Parallel to the judicial review application is a constitutional motion which Gafoor filed against Richards, challenging his decision to suspend her and to appoint the tribunal.
In his decision to have Gafoor’s claims and the allegations against her made public, Kokaram noted that the material which the Integrity Commission sought to keep private was not related to declarations by persons defined in the Integrity Commission Act and as such there was no matter before him that could constitute a breach of the legislation.
He said they were not documents contemplated by the Act and the public should not be made to speculate on the issues complained of by the vice-chairman of the institution.
Kokaram said he found no argument that disclosure may make life awkward for parties and as such justified secrecy.
The matter goes on trial before Kokaram, starting June 18. Three days have been set aside for hearing of the case.
The announcement of Gafoor’s suspension came on the same day officers of the Anti- Corruption Investigation Bureau (ACIB) raided the Chacon Street, Port-of-Spain, offices of Newsday and the home of senior investigative journalist Andre Bagoo.
Several items were seized from both the Newsday and Bagoo’s home in an attempt to force the senior journalist to reveal his sources relating to a story he wrote on the ongoing row between Gafoor and Gordon, published on December 20, last year. In the report, Bagoo reported that Gordon appeared to unilaterally accede to a request from Jeremie to have Gafoor and Jokhoo removed from the 20-month-old investigation into his (Jeremie’s) role in a reported land transaction involving former Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicholls, who was once the key witness in proceedings aimed at removing former Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma. The raids by the ACIB on Newsday’s offices and Bagoo’s home followed letters sent to Gafoor and the senior journalist seeking information on Newsday’s story of December 20, 2011.