Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has once again got his wires crossed on the media.
Asked by this newspaper to comment on Opposition allegations regarding his purchase of a $1.2 million townhouse in Tobago, Dr Rowley responded with sarcasm, annoyance and deflection, before saying, “I am really not interested in anything they have to say about anything that I or my family PURCHASED.” (His emphasis).
On Wednesday, this newspaper reported the PM’s comment with the allegations made by UNC MP Saddam Hosein.
Lo and behold! On Friday, with the allegations picking up steam among Opposition supporters, Dr Rowley commandeered over an hour of broadcast time on State-owned TTT to deny the allegations, and present his evidence to deny the Opposition’s claim that he had failed to file information required under the Integrity in Public Life Act. Shockingly, he went on to accuse the media of facilitating the Opposition’s agenda to undermine the PNM’s campaign for tomorrow’s THA election by reporting its allegations.
We get that, for him, live TV with the freedom to bounce between his roles of Prime Minister and PNM political leader was preferable to answering the media’s questions. However, to refuse to comment and then question the media’s professionalism is simply galling.
In any case, notwithstanding the length of time at his disposal on Friday, Dr Rowley has still not provided a satisfactory response to the question of why he had not disclosed his property interests on the required form.
As he quite rightly noted, all persons covered under the Integrity in Public Life Act are required to fill out two forms: the highly confidential Form A, with detailed information on one’s income, assets and liabilities; and Form B, which requires a simple disclosure of all one’s properties and is available for public perusal.
The salient point is that Dr Rowley declared the Inez Gate property purchased in 2019 in Form A to the Integrity Commission, but not in Form B, to which the public has access.
In defending himself on Friday, Dr Rowley offered a different understanding of what Form B required, saying it involves areas of conflicting interest. Based on the instructions on the form, that is clearly not the case.
Perhaps, the most disturbing feature of Dr Rowley’s address was his criticism of the Integrity Commission. He seemed to think that the Integrity Commission should have come to his immediate defence, which was odd given his own initial refusal to defend himself.
Without hard evidence and a rush to judgment, he suggested that the confidential information he had filed in Form A had been leaked from within the Integrity Commission. The fact is that information about his Inez Gate purchase could have come from anyone. A simple check for it in the publicly available Form B would have revealed that it had not been listed.
Dr Rowley needs to tread very carefully in stirring suspicion about the Integrity Commission. We do not need a repeat of that shameful episode when chairman of the Integrity Commission, Dr Eric St Cyr, was hounded out of office by politicians in the People’s Partnership government.