Court stops Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit from using a $194,000 gifted Jeep Wrangler
"This case is of extreme importance for the preservation of integrity in public administration in Dominica and, by extension, the Caribbean," declares attorney-at-law Wayne Benjamin Marsh succeeding the recent ruling of the High Court prohibiting Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit from using his gifted Wrangler Jeep until the legal matter is settled and the vehicles registration number be suspended.
However, Skerrit says, his acceptance of the gift was in keeping with the law and contends that Cara Shillingford-Marsh, a member of the Integrity Commission, was driven to file the lawsuit by other machinations apart from the rule of law.
On June 12, 2023, High Court Judge Justice Bernie Stephenson, who had conducted the matter before vacating the bench in Dominica, delivered a decision in which she granted leave to Shillingford-Marsh, to file a judicial review challenging February 12, 2021, determination of the majority members of the Integrity Commission of Dominica, allowing Skerrit to keep the gift costing EC$194,000.00. Integrity Commission is taken to court
Shillingford-Marsh brought the claim against Stephenson Hyacinth as Chairman of the Integrity Commission and Thomas Holmes as a member of the Integrity Commission and the Integrity Commission.
In keeping with the Integrity in Public Office Act, she alleges that the Commission acted "illegally, irrationally, and unreasonably" when it allowed a person in public office, namely Prime Minister Skeritt, to keep the gift of the Jeep Wrangler from Moosa Navsa without conducting an inquiry into the circumstances of the presenting the gift.
She further argued that the decision of the Commission was in breach of its international obligation in that the Commission failed to give effect to Article 5 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and that the decision flies in the face of the provisions and amounts to the sanctioning of corruption.
The Integrity Commission member is asking that the gift be handed over to the financial secretary since the vehicle is the property of the State and cannot be retained by the Prime Minister.
In the decision, which came two years after the application was filed, the court granted leave to Mrs Shillingford-Marsh to proceed with judicial review against the Integrity Commission but struck out the claim against Stephenson Hyacinth and Thomas Holmes.
Shillingford-Marsh has 14 days from the court's decision to file her claim. Lessons for other public bodies
Attorney Wayne Benjamin Marsh, who represents his wife in the matter, told The Sun that the ruling demonstrates that members of the Integrity Commission and other public bodies must understand their duties and acquaint themselves with the laws governing their actions.
"It also underscores the fact that no man or woman is above the law and that the Eastern Caribbean courts will be ready to intervene to control the action of both public institutions and individuals," Marsh averred.
He commended Shillingford-Marsh for her bold action in performing her duties without fear or favour.
"I thank her because her actions demonstrate that our democracy can be preserved if persons take their jobs seriously and are willing to act within the confines of the law which governs them no matter who may be affected by their actions."
Marsh contends, "It is not enough to create an institution unless the person who administers these institutions is impartial and willing to carry out their mandate properly."
However, in a recent public remark on the matter, Skerrit said while he is not in the habit of commenting on matters before the court, he asserts that the facts of this case are "clear."
According to the nation's leader, in the interest of transparency, he declared the asset to the Integrity Commission on January 12, 2021, "whose members in their wisdom determined that it could remain in my possession."
In a letter dated February 17, 2021, Skerrit disclosed that Helen Ambo, the Secretary to the Commissioner, informed him that according to an inquiry on section 45 of the Integrity in Public Office Act, into the acceptance of the gift on January 8, 2021, the Commission decided to have due regard to section 35: 4 (b) of the Act, "in light of the fact that the gift was not trivial but was apparently not intended to be a motive or reward for doing or abstaining from any of your official functions you are directed to retain the gift."
The letter further noted, "The Commissioners asked me to thank you for complying with the legislation in that regard and for submitting the requisite information to facilitate the inquiry."
The Integrity Commission was represented by Lisa De Freitas and led by Senior Counsel Reginald Armour.
- Br Ronalda Luke