The Heliconia Foundation (HF) has asked the Integrity Commission to probe alleged hiring practices at the office of the Attorney General from June 2010 to November 2014 when Anand Ramlogan was the past PP government’s Attorney General.
The request was sent to the commission, via letter dated February 21, 2016, soon after the foundation, following a court hearing to obtain certain information on the matter, received the information.
The foundation, formed in 2012 and comprising young professionals, describes itself as a think tank promoting good government, equal opportunity and justice. It has been linked with the ruling PNM. Several members are PNM. Foundation chairman is Michael Coppin who is a PNM Government senator. The letter to the commission is signed by Coppin.
According to the HF letter, its complaint to the commission regarding the alleged hiring practices is being done pursuant to Section 32 of the Integrity in Public Life Act. It also calls on the commission to determine if any alleged violation occurred concerning sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act and Proceeds of Crime Act.
The HF said it had launched a probe in 2014 of 41 ministries, state agencies and state enterprises over the June 2010 to November 2014 period, using primarily Freedom of Information requests “and with the invaluable help of a number of present and former employees of the office of the Attorney General (AG).”
Presenting the results of its investigations to the commission, HF added: “These results reveal a number of startling statistics which in our view call into question the integrity of persons in public life as defined by the Integrity in Public Life Act.”
HF’s Freedom of Information requests had sought information on the number and list of posts for which employment contracts were terminated prior to expiry over June 2010 to November 2014 and the number of people who were not previously employed at the AG’s office who were given contracts over the period.
The HF also sought information on the number and list of positions for which employment contracts were not renewed for June 2010 to November 2014, those persons terminated and reasons for the termination or non-renewals of contracts. THE HF stated information was sought from the AG’s office on the qualification of those employed over the period and what was necessary for the posts.
It stated the former AG, despite acknowledging receipt of HF’s requests, “failed, neglected and/or refused to respond” to the stipulated time frame. This forced HF to threaten legal action. When information was still unavailable by August 2015, HF sought judicial review against the former AG.
The High Court heard the matter last January 23 and an undertaking was given by the AG’s office to release the information last February 15, HF noted. It claimed a number of Equal Opportunity investigation officers at the AG’s office were terminated and a number of advisers to the former AG and communications staff were “woefully underqualified” for the position held.
HF also claimed the results showed a number of positions also appeared on the list for which there was no official job description. HF also alleged there was an absence of records to substantiate a number of the purported qualifications of persons hired.
“It is our legal counsel’s view that by hiring persons who were unqualified for the post, persons in public life and or public officials breached their duty to perform their functions and administer public resources in an effective and efficient manner and to be impartial in exercising their public duty.”
HF also claimed part of the Prevention of Corruption Act was breached. This concerns providing a fee/rewards on account of an agent doing anything in which the state or public body is concerned.
Ramlogan, whose cellphone carried a message to text him didn’t respond to a texted request for a reply call on the matter. Nor were subsequent calls answered. A man at Ramlogan’s San Fernando office said Ramlogan was not in yesterday.
Garvin Nicholas, who succeeded Ramlogan as AG in February 2015, said he had not probed any hirings at the AG’s office when he was there since he had assumed people were properly hired, “because the department has a director of human resources and permanent secretary responsible for hirings.”