Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles has sent a clear warning to all assembly staff – including his Executive Council – that he will not condone any wrongdoing.
He was responding to questions from the media during Wednesday’s post-Executive Council media briefing at the Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation in Scarborough.
Charles' comment comes in the wake of the Prime Minister's dismissal of Marlene McDonald from his Cabinet following her arrest on corruption charges. Dr Rowley, the political leader of the PNM, also removed McDonald as deputy leader of the PNM.
Charles said he has a zero-tolerance approach to corruption, whether low-level or senior THA staff.
“I shall not discriminate," he declared.
“Since coming into office, I have been resolutely trying to ensure that we increase our levels of efficiency and making sure that the procedures that are considered best practice are adhered to.”
Last Monday, the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP), through minority councillor Dr Faith BYisrael, called on Police Commissioner Gary Griffith to investigate alleged corruption in the THA. BYisrael said the PDP condemns corruption at all levels, particularly in government, adding that there were several questionable cases in the THA that needed further probing.
Charles said if there is evidence he welcomed the police to investigate allegations of corruption within the THA.
“This country has its laws, and the issue of 'lock up'...relates to charges that can be made against persons for wrongdoing. To the extent that the police in the conduct of their work find persons that fit those criteria, I would hope that they would do their work.”
Asked about money reportedly paid to singer D’Angelo, who did not perform as scheduled for the 2017 Tobago Jazz Festival, Charles said investigations take time, citing the arrest of McDonald for alleged corruption between 2010 and 2017. McDonald, who is on $2 million bail, is charged with trying to defraud the government by procuring funds for the Calabar Foundation, a charity group headed by her partner, Michael Carew. The Fraud Squad determined the foundation received cheques from the Ministry of Community Development and Culture while McDonald was the minister, in 2010.
"You did start by mentioning Marlene, when was the date of that alleged action again?
"So you begin to understand that these things in terms of investigation takes some time.”
The Chief Secretary said the cases involving money being wired to incorrectaccounts have already engaged the attention of police.
In October 2017, it was announced that some $10 million, which was supposed to be sent to three suppliers, had been sent to wrong bank accounts. On July 2017, $8.8 million for Virgin Atlantic Airways to help secure flights by the airline to Tobagowas said to have been wired to the wrong account; a US$6,500 wire transfer for a Miami-based consulting firm was rerouted to a bank in the United Kingdom; and a further $1.6 million, which was intended for agents in Miami for the cruise ship season, was also reportedly sent to the wrong bank account.
Charles said these matters have not been brushed under the carpet.
“We are on record as saying that there are two matters in particular that we would have referred to the Fraud Squad.
"The fact that we would have done that is a clear indication that those who possess the competences and the legal right to do certain things should be allowed to do so.”