by Peter Richards
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – The People’s Partnership coalition government suffered a major political setback on the eve of its first anniversary after Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar confirmed that she had asked President George Maxwell Richards to revoke the appointment of a senior Cabinet minister embroiled in a controversy involving the award of a government contract to a firm headed by her husband.
“It is a very sad day for us and it has to be done,” Prime Minister Persad Bissessar told reporters after she met with President Richards for just under an hour.
The five-member coalition, which will observe the first anniversary of its stunning 29-12 electoral victory on May 24, has in the past weathered some questionable acts and statements made by ministers, but the issue involving Planning, Economic and Social Restructuring and Gender Affairs Minister Mary King rocked the 12-month administration that sought to portray a different image from administrations of the past.
King, an economist, and a member of the Congress of the People (COP) party has so far not made any public comment on the issue, but one of her COP colleagues and Sports Minister Anil Roberts said she should have resigned and prevented the Prime Minister from having to be placed in a very unpleasant position.
The COP in a statement had called on King, the former chairman of the Trinidad and Tobago Transparent Institute (TTTI), to step down while investigations continue into the allegations.
“We welcome the application of due process by the Integrity Commission and other relevant authorities in executing the needed procedural investigations in the circumstances. No doubt, this would ensure that the integrity of the government remains intact, while affording the Honourable Minister the opportunity to exonerate herself from any wrongdoing,” the COP said in a statement.
The issue involving the minister was brought to public attention on Sunday, when the Express newspaper published a front page story indicating that questions have been raised as to whether King breached the law when she failed to disclose her pecuniary and family interest in a software engineering company, Ixanos Ltd, which won a Government website development contract from her ministry last November.
It said that the minister is the corporate secretary on record and a joint shareholder with her husband Dr St Clair King of Ixanos.
The paper said that investigations into the award of the near TT$100,000 (US$16, 600) website development contract “found the minister failed to disclose her interest in the family-owned business, was present at the opening of the bids and was involved in the selection process of the four-member evaluation team which picked Ixanos”
But it quoted King, an executive member of the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC), as denying all breaches insisting that the contract “awarded to her family company was open and transparent and did not «at all» represent a conflict of interest.
In an immediate response to the newspaper article, the Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar sought to distance herself from the controversy saying that she only became aware of the situation “after the process had been completed.
“Media reports…attributed to Minister of Planning, Economic and Social Restructuring and Gender Affairs, Mary King, which state that I as Prime Minister had been informed of the whole tendering process on the Government website development contract, are entirely and categorically erroneous.
“The matter was brought to my attention recently after the process had been completed and I made it clear that, on the basis of the information provided me, it was highly inappropriate.”
The Prime Minister said that she wanted to be better informed on the matter in order to make a decision “which ensures that the integrity of the Government remains intact”.
She told reporters Tuesday that she had indeed received the report from the Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan on the issue.
She did not elaborate, but told reporters “I am sure the AG will be happy to brief you on his report”.
Ramlogan had earlier said that the issues raised were of grave and public importance and that “it is imperative that the principles of natural justice be scrupulously observed less the review/ enquiry be vitiated by allegations of procedural irregularity and unfairness”.
The Prime Minister said that she had also asked the President to revoke King’s Senatorial appointment.
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