Faced with mounting allegations of a cover-up, Attorney General Faris al-Rawi yesterday released a redacted version of Douglas Mendes’s legal opinion and announced that the report into allegations of sexual harassment against former minister Darryl Smith has been dumped.
The AG is also moving to formalise a sexual harassment public policy through the Public Service Commission (PSC) in light of the Darryl Smith issue.
“The report must be discarded. We at the office of the Prime Minister and the Attorney General’s office will not be disclosing the report,” he said at a news conference at his Port of Spain office yesterday.
He said based on the advice of Senior Counsel Mendes that the report was “defective insofar as natural justice is concerned”, the Prime Minister had two options:
1) throw away the work of the entire committee;
b) reconvene the committee in circumstances where it would be the subject of an allegation of apparent bias.
In those circumstances, he said the Prime Minister chose to end the matter at this point.
However, he said the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Maurice Suite, has been engaged in a process of treating with the Public Service side of it, which included the development of a sexual harassment policy.
“It is open to me as Attorney General to take another step and that step is that I could continue in any form or extension, with any such persons as I select, to deal with this matter ... And I am at the cusp right now of inviting a suitable person, I am leaning towards a retired judge or senior counsel that has expertise in this particular area, to consider the very narrow issue of the allegation of sexual harassment,” he said.
Contacted last night, Al-Rawi further explained that the person will be looking at sexual harassment allegations as a policy matter for the Public Service and not the allegations with respect to Smith.
PM spoke the truth
The Attorney General said Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley was not wrong in what he said.
He defended PM Rowley against media reports that he was not truthful on Thursday when he said Smith was not given an opportunity to comment on the negative conclusions against him before the committee concluded its report.
Said Al-Rawi: “The Prime Minister has never said that (former) Minister Smith was not interviewed. The Prime Minister said Minister Smith was not afforded the proper opportunity to answer allegations and findings as a result of the process.
“I watched the interview yesterday that the Prime Minister had at the post-Cabinet conference, it was never put to the Prime Minister by way of a specific question ‘Prime Minister, are you saying Mr Smith was never interviewed’.
“Because the Prime Minister would have said Mr Smith was interviewed but Mr Smith was not given the full opportunity for natural justice to be had to answer allegations and adverse inferences that were put in that report.”
The Attorney General said the non-disclosure agreement did not prevent former employee Carrie-Ann Moreau from reporting the matter to the police.
“This matter was taken to the Industrial Court, and it involved somebody saying that they were summarily dismissed, and saying ‘I have been sexually harassed inside of that and I want $225,000’.”
Al-Rawi said no report was made to the police, although it was open for that to be done. He said according to the ministry’s records, as far as he was aware, no report of sexual harassment was filed.
He said the initial claim made by the trade union on behalf of Moreau was $225,000, while the ministry’s offer was $75,000. The two sides eventually agreed on $150,000.
He said it was open to the worker (Moreau) to advance a claim of sexual harassment but “the worker however chose to settle the matter”.
He said the office of the Prime Minister received the committee’s report on June 4, 2018 and he (AG) was provided with a copy of it and the Permanent Secretary (Suite) was given a copy.
“Two reports were in existence,” he said.
He said his report has been “locked away in a Cabinet drawer”. The Permanent Secretary, he said, confirmed that the other copy of the report “was under careful management”.
On Kirk Waithe’s letter to the Commissioner of Police calling for a criminal investigation, the Attorney General said he never heard Waithe call for criminal investigations into certain members of the UNC. “And I have my suspicious why. If there is to be a criminal investigation, the police are entitled to deal with whatever the police are entitled to deal with. Let me put this is in stark position, the worker herself did not make a criminal complaint,” he said.
Smith itching to speak
In response to questions, Attorney General Al-Rawi said he thinks “Mr Smith is itching to give his side of the story. Certainly in his circumstance, he would want to have his name cleared... He has proverbially been put into the position of a market crab, his name is calling left, right and centre.
“He has been the subject of action and he cannot come out and defend himself openly. He wants to meet his accuser in the forum where he can. So I think from a personal level ... anyone would want to defend themselves. ... But that would be a personal choice for Mr Smith.”
Responding to the UNC’s call for the Prime Minister to resign and the Opposition’s criticisms of him (AG), the Al-Rawi said: “It was typical UNC wish-listing, full of nonsense and hot air. ... Mrs Persad-Bissessar is certainly not qualified to advise anybody on this matter because the taxpayer footed her advice in the Ashwin Creed (LifeSport) matter ... and in that matter there were allegations of murder, theft and corruption and Mrs Persad-Bissessar was recently seen hugging up the main target of that exercise (Anil Roberts). So I take no advice from Kamla Persad-Bissessar,” he said.
However, Al-Rawi said he understood the public concerns.
“This is a genuine issue, I think that there is concern for this kind of conduct. I think that there is legitimate concern in the public domain as to the transparency of public enterprises and ministries. I think that sexual harassment is real, and we need to be diligent in how we manage these things and find a balance,” he said. He said what his political opponents will or will not say on a political platform is a different matter.
Giving a background to the issue, the Attorney General said when he looked at the report he was of “the solid and unswerving view that the report offended natural justice”.
He said because the matter had been in the public domain, he sought to “underwrite” his own view by requesting the opinion of Douglas Mendes “known for his independence”, who was “ably assisted by Richie Dass”.
He said the SC opinion was that the findings of the report had not been expressed in a provisional or preliminary manner. “On the contrary many of the findings ... appear to be made in fairly conclusive terms,” he said.
Al-Rawi said he had a duty to ensure that the rights of all parties were observed. He said as Attorney General he is compelled to balance rights while the Prime Minster is obligated to act with residual fairness and transparency as it relates to matters of public enquiries.
He said the Prime Minister only acts without fetter with respect to appointments to the Cabinet, parliamentary secretaries and government senators.
He stressed that attorney Michael Quamina was not retained at the inception of the matter, but was hired after the dismissal of Moreau was being treated as a trade dispute and the issue of a settlement had to be negotiated.
He said the records at the ministry will also disclose that Quamina was engaged by the ministry and that Smith was not his client.
He said Quamina had advised the ministry that it would lose in court on the matter of the wrongful dismissal.