The Integrity Commission has been ordered to halt its inquiry into the alleged financial wrongdoings at the Marketing and National Importing Board (MNIB) pending the outcome of an appeal filed by the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ruel Edwards, who was at the helm of the state-owned entity during the period under investigation.
A single judge of the Court of Appeal handed down the decision when it sat on the island last week, approximately 1-month after the Integrity Commission announced that it had entered the inquiry stages of its investigation.
In June 2019, a High Court Judge ruled that the Integrity Commission had acted in accordance with the law when it began its inquiry into the allegation of financial wrongdoing especially its former CEO. Edwards had instructed his attorney, former Attorney-General, Cajeton Hood to appeal the decision of the High Court, which was reversed in his favour by a Justice of the Court of Appeal last week Tuesday.
With victory in his hands, Hood said: “So, as long as this appeal has not been decided, it means that the Integrity Commission has to stop the intrusion into the business of the Marketing and National Importing Board”.
According to Attorney-at-Law, Ruggles Ferguson, who is representing the Commission in the matter, along with Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes who has been contracted from neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago, the Commission is considering its options in light of the ruling. He hinted that the commission could file an appeal to the full court because only one (1) judge heard the matter via written document, or wait for the Court of Appeal to give its judgment of the June High Court decision.
“There is an order and one must obey the order of the court to stay the investigation until such time…there is no date for the appeal as yet, so, the commission is reviewing its option as to whether or not an application should be made to the full court (consisting of three (3) judges),” said Ferguson.
In a statement issued following the ruling, the Commission said it is committed to expediting the inquiry stage in accordance with the Terms of Reference of the investigation, adhering to the legal principles of natural justice, procedural protections and due process.
During a press conference in July 2018, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell announced that Cabinet had endorsed a recommendation for a thorough investigation, which was put forward by him as the line minister for MNIB against the backdrop of several reports first exposed in a series of articles by THE NEW TODAY about the possible inappropriate use of MNIB funds. In September 2018, the Integrity Commission announced that it had taken on its own to investigate the Marketing Board based on the reports of alleged wrongdoing in the public domain.
The Former MNIB CEO challenged the decision of the commission in court, claiming that it had no right to conduct an inquiry without a written complaint. When the court ruled that the Integrity Commission did not violate the law, it commenced its closed-door inquiry.
Edwards through his lawyer Hood filed a restraining order to stop the Commission from holding its “closed-door” inquiry and for a stay of execution of the high court judgment. Prior to the inquiry stage, the technical team of the Integrity Commission had been gathering information through the conduct of interviews and collection of data. Interviews were conducted with current and past MNIB Board members, farmers, ministers of government, and past and present officials of the Ministry of Finance.
The investigations was said to be taking place pursuant to the Integrity in Public Life and Prevention of Corruption Acts with the application of relevant international law and best practices.