THE NEW TODAY is calling on Mr. Robert Robinson to distance himself from the so-called decision taken by the politically-exposed Integrity Commission, headed by attorney-at-law, Anande Trotman-Joseph to mount a private investigation into alleged corruption and wrong-doing at the state-owned Marketing & National Importing Board (MNIB).
This newspaper is convinced that the powers-that-be are trying to use the good name of Mr. Robinson to “sugar coat” the kind of investigation that they intend to undertake into the affairs of the MNIB during the tenure of its Chief Executive Officer, Ruel Edwards and the Board of Directors under the Chairmanship of Samuel Andrew.
The Prime Minister of this country, Dr. Keith Mitchell is now trying to hide behind the Integrity Commission as he seeks to duck from the pronouncement he made at the end of July to conduct a public inquiry into the MNIB fiasco.
Dr. Mitchell has already come out in the public domain and made a number of startling revelations about the frightening things that took place at MNIB which is a state-owned body that falls into the category of a national treasure for the farmers of the country.
This newspaper holds strongly to the view that a public inquiry has to be held in keeping with the Commission of Inquiry act as provided for by the laws of Grenada and not any charade by the Integrity Commission which lacks the professional expertise including a qualified and competent forensic accountant to do any meaningful probe into the financial wrongs as alluded to by the Prime Minister.
The Integrity Commission also lacks the relevant jurisdiction to investigate a matter of that nature.
In addition, those persons who were maligned in public by the Prime Minister should be equally offered a public platform to put forward their defence against the charges made against them by PM Mitchell.
In one of his broadsides, the Prime Minister said the following: “Marketing Board was meant to maximise the production of the agricultural sector and put more money into the hands of farmers. It was not meant to become another Government bureaucracy that satisfies its friends and political affiliates.”
Dr. Mitchell went on: “You cannot care about a country and if you’re in a position of authority, you take a decision to garnish a Government account thereby putting the salaries of scores of workers at risk and jeopardising their ability to provide basic items for their families. I have a serious problem with that.”
THE NEW TODAY is suggesting that the remarks were directed at Mr. Ruel Edwards and Dr. Patrick Antoine, the Grenadian-born and regionally recognised agricultural economist who was a permanent fixture of the ruling New National Party (NNP) government for over 20 years until his sudden resignation a few weeks ago.
It has now become a matter of public record that Dr. Antoine was a Director of a Miami-based company that was selling sugar to MNIB under Mr. Edward’s tenure and which took the state-owned body to court for a debt of close to EC$1 million.
Armed with a court order in the face of the failure of the Marketing Board to honour the debt, the company through its local lawyer took the bold decision to go before the high court to get an order to garnish the account of government to recover its monies.
THE NEW TODAY is saying that Dr. Antoine ought to respond to the utterances of the Prime Minister in a public inquiry and to give his side so that the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique can be the judge of the facts as presented.
Over the years, Dr. Mitchell has often used the halls of Parliament to malign a number of persons with untruths because he knows that these individuals cannot use the same Parliamentary platform to respond to his utterances.
The findings of the MNIB Inquiry should be public and not something to be put away on some shelf by PM Mitchell himself and Governor General, Dame Cecile La Grenade.
Mr. Robinson should not be part of this charade that is the so-called private inquiry now taking place by the Integrity Commission.
THE NEW TODAY also wants to remind Mr. Robinson of the following remarks which were made in the public arena by the former Chairman of MNIB, Samuel Andrew and Grenadians ought to hear for themselves the response of those who have been called into question.
Mr Andrew said the following in a press statement: “Initially, the parlous state of finances at the MNIB was only revealed to me when a colleague telephoned me to indicate that a foreign sugar supplier was seeking redress for the payment of outstanding amounts for sugar supplies after numerous successive undertakings to pay from the CEO were not honoured.
These facts of financial expose were previously concealed from the Board for almost two (2) full years.
“Upon receiving the query from the supplier, I requested a full report on the financial status of the MNIB; the Board was stunned into silence, regarding the extent to which the true financial status of the MNIB was concealed.
“As Chairman, I took the responsible action of bringing this development to the attention of the Minister with responsibility for Economic Development at the time, Minister Oliver Joseph. I kept Minister Oliver Joseph continuously appraised of the situation at Marketing Board, at times even drawing the ire of the CEO.
“There is nothing that the Board or the Chairman could have done differently in circumstances where they were denied critical financial information”.
Mr. Robinson, the public should be made privy of what Minister Joseph did with this kind of information that was given to him by Mr. Andrew.
Did he keep it for himself or inform the Cabinet of Ministers and PM Mitchell of the financial mess that MNIB had found itself in?
A properly constituted Commission of Inquiry will have the powers to subpoena Cabinet Minutes and Documents on the information about Marketing Board that Minister Joseph should have relayed to Cabinet and if he did so, when did he inform the body.
If Minister Joseph did bring the MNIB fiasco to the attention of Cabinet then this brings into serious question the truthfulness of the statement now being made by PM Mitchell that when the decision was taken to bring Mr. Ruel Edwards from the Marketing Board into another big-paying job at the Ministry of Finance as Head of Economic and Technical Cooperation, he would not have supported it, had he known about the financial madness that was uncovered.
This is what PM Mitchell told reporters only two weeks ago: “I want to be clear when the decision was made to hire the past manager of Marketing Board, I had no indication and I was not the one who moved to get the appointment. I gave my endorsement when the information and recommendation was brought before me but, I wanna be very clear, I had no indication, if there was any indication that there was a possibility or problems in that area, I would not have supported it…”.
Mr. Robinson should not allow his good name and credibility as an outstanding retired civil servant to be used by the head of the Integrity Commission, Anande Trotman-Joseph, the wife of Dr. Lawrence Joseph, considered as one of the most trusted lieutenants of the Prime Minister to deny the public of the right to know first-hand about the people’s business that is the Marketing Board.
History will not be kind to Mr. Robinson if he partakes in this charade by the NNP regime, that is now called “Operation MNIB Cover-up”.
Mr. Robinson must know that the Integrity Commission cannot investigate fraud and that a public inquiry must be held only after an independent audit and a criminal investigation by the FIU take place as part of the Good Governance agenda.