THE PRIME MINISTER scoffed at threats made by the UNC to go to the Integrity Commission to demand an investigation into the possible conflict of interest of the PM owning and profiting from his goat and sheep farm in Tobago.
Opposition Senator Wade Mark levied the accusations at Thursday’s UNC mid-week press briefing.
“I want to say, make up your mind. Either you want to remain as Prime Minister, or you don’t,” Mark said. “But you cannot draw two salaries,” Mark said.
“We may have to consider writing to the Integrity Commission on the conduct of this Prime Minister, who is running a goat farm, a sheep farm in Tobago and according to him, selling meat and exporting meat to TT. So he is getting two salaries.”
“Is that fair? Is that right? Is the Prime Minister not conflicted? Do we have a business Cabinet, or do we have a Cabinet that is looking out for the interest of the people?”
Newsday contacted Dr Rowley who responded via whatsapp.
“Why are you surprised?" Rowley asked, "They are shocked that I as Prime Minister would get some money from the animals I raise on my farm. They just can’t understand that I would be so idle to spend time and money producing food. That’s not what they will do.
"If they want some money they just tief it.
"No sweat, no dutty hand, no muddy boots, no shovelling manure, no cutting and planting grass, just tief it!
Rowley added, "This Prime Minister has farming as a hobby, they have tiefing and calling for investigation into why others not teifing too.”
Legal sources advised Newsday that earning income from a venture is in no way an offence. Only if the person is gainfully employed and earning a salary from the venture while being a person in public life, can there be a conflict of interest.
Rowley’s goat farm is in Mason Hall, about an hour’s drive from Scarborough and about 30 minutes away from his official residence in Blenheim. The farm was built in the same area where his father and grandfather, also farmers, worked the land.
In an interview with reporters in 2021, Rowley said farming was a relaxing and fulfilling hobby. He says that he goes to the farm for his health, to bring his blood pressure down. Rowley plants feed in the form of grass for the animals, cuts grass, cleans pens, manages the mating process and everything else involved in running a farm.
Communications Minister Symon De Nobriga dismissed Mark’s allegations as simple distraction tactics.
“You throw the most outrageous, outlandish statements out to distract from the reality of the work that the government is doing. As the Minister of Communications, I strongly condemn these misinformation tactics that UNC continues to foist on the population,” he said.
On the wider issue of conflicts of interest, De Nobriga said the government, being a responsible one, made use of recusing itself on several occasions, to ensure that decisions are not only free and clear in reality, but in the perception of the public.
Speaking earlier, Mark highlighted information gotten from the Freedom of Information Application on Thursday that the PNM had made 265 recusals since in office, with the current Minister of Energy recusing himself a total of 98 times.
In response, De Nobriga said, “In a world where perception is almost as important as reality, this is the government being as responsible as possible.
"However, no matter how many times we say that, how many times we explain the logic of it, what happens is it the Opposition throws up this straw man – this is red herring – as if it is a problem when it is the exact opposite.”
Section 24 (2) of the Integrity in Public Life Act says a person in public life shall not use his office in the improper advancement of his own or his family’s personal or financial interests or the interest of any person, engage in any transaction acquire any position or have any commercial or other interest that is incompatible with his office, directly or indirectly use his office for personal or private gain or undertake any project involving the use of public funds in disregard to the Financial Orders.
Section 29 (1) says if a person in public life or anyone exercising a public function were to make or, participating in the decision making in the execution of his office while having knowledge or ought to have knowledge that the decision would provide an opportunity to further private interests of himself or his family, the person should disclose his interest and disqualify or recuse himself from any decision-making process.
Newsday attempted to contact senior counsel and head of the Law Association Sophia Chote for further clarification of the law but attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.