by Carrema Lewis
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Keith Mitchell has dropped strong hints that the controversial former Chief Executive Officer of the state-run Marketing & National Importing Board (MNIB), Ruel Edwards would most likely be fired from his new post at the Ministry of Finance.
Speaking to reporters at Tuesday’s weekly press briefing, the Prime Minister said that the Public Service Commission (PSC) which is responsible for hiring and firing public officers has already been approached on the issue of Edwards’ continued employment with government.
According to Dr. Mitchell, he has already discussed with Edwards the likelihood of him losing the top-paying job in the Ministry of Finance.
“Since the question of the former manager’s employment in the Ministry of Finance (is) seen in the public domain as an issue, I’ve had discussions with the individual. Of course, he has his own rights but the ministry with which he is employed and the administrative end is taking initiative to write to the Public Service Commission because he has a public service contract, so we can’t just act”, he said.
“The Public Service Commission has to act and some recommendations would be made as far as his continued employment at this juncture is concerned”, he added.
The Prime Minister stated that he wanted to see “a speedy end to this issue” involving Edwards since it would be “better for all concerned”.
Edwards is expected to be at the centre of an investigation into alleged wrongdoing at MNIB which is said to have raked up losses of over $EC4 million and is now unable to pay farmers for their produce.
It is also alleged that the state enterprise ran up a debt of over $350, 000.00 in first class travel mainly to Miami in the United States and was taken to court for failing to pay US$300, 000.00 to a foreign supplier for sugar.
THE NEW TODAY was told Tuesday that Edwards was seeking the services of a local barrister-at-law in light of the unfolding events surrounding him.
The Integrity Commission, headed by attorney-at-law, Anande Trotman-Joseph announced Monday that it was doing a private inquiry into the alleged mismanagement and corruption at the Marketing Board.
The move is in sharp contrast to the public inquiry that was promised by Prime Minister Mitchell into the MNIB saga after he said that a number of frightening things were discovered to be taking place at the state enterprise.
Dr. Mitchell told reporters that the ongoing debacle involving Edwards is affecting the operations of MNIB.
The Grenadian leader stated that if he was privy to the wrongdoings which were taking place within the Marketing Board (MNIB) under the watch of Edwards, he would not have supported him getting the top paying job and joining the staff at the Ministry of Finance as Head of Economic and Technical Cooperation.
“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…”, he said.
Prime Minister Mitchell stressed that his statement on the issue does not in any way seek to condemn Edwards.
“That is not to condemn the individual. In this life, colleagues it’s not only the truth that matters, perception matters. So, sometimes someone may not have done anything wrong but if it is perceived that problems may have occurred, we cannot duck our responsibilities.
“So, the initiative in this commission must not imply that we are already condemning anybody, if we were already condemning anybody we would not have needed this inquiry, we’re just going to do what we have to do.
PM Mitchell pointed out that he does not enjoy the spectacle of doing the inquiry as he has no interest in ensuring that people “suffer unfairly”.
According to Dr. Mitchell, his only interest is that “truth must prevail, the public finance must be protected at all costs”.
Given the allegations of misuse of funds, he said, he believes that this decision by the Integrity Commission to probe the MNIB affairs is necessary. “The inquiry is to find out real facts, nothing but the facts and let the chips fall where it supposed to”, he added.
Dr. Mitchell acknowledged that he had received reports that farmers are complaining that they have not received any payments for produce supplied to the MNIB.
“I know for a fact that at a recent consultation in St. Andrew’s that it was reported that the farmers were implying that some information came out there that a lot of wrong doing took place in the Marketing Board with the funds and that many of them were suffering because they were not paid for their services which is extremely unfortunate and that the individual who is alleged to be the main person involved is now hired at the Ministry of Finance,” he said.
Prime Minister Mitchell hinted that this would obviously impact negatively on the arrangement between MNIB and the local farming community.
He said: “If you have not paid many of the farmers for the produce that they have given you, don’t expect them to continue to supply you.
If you have not met your financial commitments to your workers, clearly it would affect the performance and productivity. So, the government has been called upon to almost literally have to make some serious financial payment to the Marketing Board to keep it alive…”.
“…I am not happy as Minister of Finance when the staff calls me and said; look they have a request from the Marketing Board for some sums of money that should be used to do other things. So definitely, there’s no question about it, and there was no way we could have sit on this.”
Prime Minister Mitchell expressed his full support for the inquiry to be conducted into the MNIB situation by the Integrity Commission.
He said although the government had at first announced that an investigation would be conducted into the matter surrounding the financial issues of MNIB, the Integrity Commission is well within its rights to do so in accordance with section 13 of Integrity in Public Life Act.
PM Mitchell told reporters: “In going through the act that established the Integrity Commission, it was clear that within that act, they had the power to do precisely what the government had announced it wanted which means that they have the powers under the public inquiry act to have a judicial inquiry, to call in witnesses under oath and to ensure that everyone that may have information to get to the heart of the matter during those last five years will be called and that no one will be spared.
“In other words, if it is felt that the Prime Minister of the country must be brought before the inquiry, the commission, then the Prime Minister will abide by the dictates of that particular initiative.
“This is not a completely new experience for me and those of you who know me well would know that I have been accused of everything on God’s earth during my public life and despite all the accusations, no one has ever come out with any specific issue, that in fact it has been proven against this Prime Minister.
“…As it is well known there are certain, I would call them in some cases fake news sheet that has spent the last 25 years attacking one person and it appears that the more they attack that one person, the more support that person has got from the public because nothing has come out to be truthful and that also when I was being accused of walking around Europe with a briefcase of $500,000 and I explained to the nation exactly what happened, you know then, I established a public inquiry against myself and people thought I was crazy but since
I had nothing to hide and I know that I did nothing wrong, I felt comfortable that I had to do it in the public interest.
“That’s why I have … no problem doing it (appearing before the commission) because it is believed it is necessary in the public’s interest to have such an open and transparent commission.
Despite Dr. Mitchell’s claim, the U.S Justice Department has said in documents obtained by Wikileaks that it has in its possession a video-tape showing the Grenadian leader accepting a large financial transaction that was handed over to them by imprisoned fraudster, Eric Resteiner who was trying to use it as part of a plea bargaining to get a lighter sentence on fraud charges.
Resteiner’s then former Chief of Security, Timothy Bass swore in an affidavit in court that he was instructed by his boss in June 2000 to videotape PM Mitchell collecting US$500,000.00 in cash in the form of a bribe in exchange for a diplomatic passport and position with the Grenada government.