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The Key to Conflict of Interest Management

Works and Transport Minister, Jack Warner and Opposition Leader, Dr Keith Rowley
Works and Transport Minister, Jack Warner and Opposition Leader, Dr Keith Rowley

June 06, 2010

THE EDITOR: There are calls from the new Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and others for Jack Warner to choose between his FIFA executive position and that of Minister of Works and Transport.
Rowley said he was about to write a letter to the Integrity Commission "for an opinion on whether it was proper for a minister of government to hold office in any organisation, especially a fee-paying office outside of the Cabinet." He said: "As far a I am concerned, Mr Warner has to choose to be (either) a Fifa executive or a minister of government in Trinidad and Tobago...He cannot be both!" Rowley said he had "some serious concerns" about the matter because a T&T Government minister is a full-time job.
(Fifa or T&T Cabinet! Trinidad Guardian: June 05, 2010)
If the issue is about Jack Warner not having the time to dedicate to his government functions then that is left to be proven. Jack said he would give up being on some of FIFA's committees if necessary. Dr. Rowley mentioned his concern "especially [with] a fee-paying office outside of Cabinet" in relation to Jack's position at FIFA. Jack responded by saying he is not paid as a FIFA executive.

However, I am not convinced that the issue is solely about Jack's ability to manage his time. Andre Bagoo raises some concerns which I will address. He states:
It is a question of whether it is appropriate for a minister to sit in Cabinet while he is beholden to a corporate entity. On a basic level, football in Trinidad and Tobago is going to be relevant to several ministries in the Cabinet and to several of Warner's colleagues. While there may appear to be no direct conflict in terms of Warner's portfolio (Works and Transport) that is no reassurance that Warner does not and will not, as a member of the Government, exert influence throughout all levels of the Government. Even if he did not, his mere presence on the Cabinet, a body that will adjudicate matters which may be of interest to FIFA, appears to undermine confidence in the ethical standards of governance (Jack's conflict of interest Newsday: June 06, 2010).
Most people in Trinidad and Tobago are divided on this issue along political lines. But, if people would examine the issue of 'conflict of interest' dispassionately they would see that this has never been properly addressed and should be managed differently. Calling on Jack Warner to choose between his FIFA executive position and his ministerial post does not adequately address legitimate concerns. If Jack was to resign from the Cabinet people would still accuse him of influencing the government given that he is the Chairman of UNC and in the perception of many, the main financier of the party. Additionally, Jack could simply resign from FIFA on paper and regain his title if and whenever he leaves active politics, like so many others do here. In other words, even if Jack Warner resigns from FIFA there is no guarantee that he would not be loyal to the organization. But some people are giving the impression that his resignation would satisfy their concerns of there being no conflict of interest.

We have had several past government ministers who had relationships with companies under their wife's and other family members' names and as soon as they left office they reverted to their former business positions. Simply giving up positions does not mean that those ministers were totally above board and there was no conflict of interest in their dealings.

Besides Keith Rowley, whose wife heads a construction company that came into conflict with the hospital project in Tobago (See: Sprawling Landate Villa nears completion By Adamson Charles: Tobago News - December 01, 2006), we have others.

What about PNM's former Health Minister John Rahael whose family business involved importing drugs (medical drugs)? His family is also among some of the biggest financiers of the PNM. They also developed the Super-Pharm chain of drug stores (a small part of the family's business empire) while he was the Minister of Health. Rowley had a recent meeting with them which, according to the media, was about them endorsing him as leader of the PNM.

Then there is the recent PNM Minister of Health Jerry Narace whose wife's insurance company 'Trinre' just happened to be handling a number of government insurances. That company grew astronomically in just a few years (See: Narace family's $100M contracts Newsday: By Andre Bagoo, September 30 2008).

Then we have the former PNM Minister of Sports Roger Boynes, whose family owns the Salybia Nature Resort that just happened to be the resort of choice for PNM ministers' retreats (See: $1M bill for PM's retreat Newsday: By Clint Chan Tack - November 16, 2007).

These are just a few cases of PNM ministers simply placing ownership of companies in the names of family members while their businesses appeared to profit from their party and political appointments.

In this small country it is easy to find connections between politicians and business interests and there should be a way to scrutinize and manage these relationships. Transparency is the key.

It is expected that some people would prosper in business and may want to serve in government. Should government only be reserved for persons who are void of business or other professional interests? Are these veiled separations of interests sufficient to satisfy us that there are no conflicts of interests? Or is the veiling of these interests in itself another level of corruption to deceive the public? Because most political investors remain outside of government appointments are these investors not having their business interests satisfied?

In my view, it is better we know these involvements upfront so we can scrutinize how the government operates in relation to these interest groups to ensure fair bidding etc., and that officials do not abuse their political positions or connections. There should be proper oversight to ensure that there is no corruption including profiteering from these business and government relationships.


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