Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne. (FILE)
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ST JOHN’S – Prime Minister Gaston Browne has blamed “overzealous” ministers in his Cabinet for the investigation that led to fraud related charges being laid against former executive secretary of the Board of Education (BoE), D. Gisele Isaac.
A High Court judge last Friday upheld a no case submission filed on behalf of Isaac, a former speaker of the House of Representatives here, who had gone on trial on October 9, nearly five years after the state had alleged that she had illegally obtained EC$9 000 for Algernon “Serpent” Watts, a debt collector/bailiff from the BoE, which the government insisted was higher than normal. Both Isaac and Watts were arrested in June 2015.
In addition, she was also charged with dishonestly applying EC$9 000 and fraudulently applying EC$13 983.97 cents for the benefit of Watts between February 2013 and March 2014.
But speaking on his private radio station over the last weekend, Browne said that left to him he would not have pursued the matter.
“Unfortunately, there were one of two individuals who were very zealous perhaps overzealous and they went ahead and did their private investigation,” he told radio listeners, adding “and let me make it abundantly clear that the Cabinet did not sanction any investigation into the Board of Education”.
“It was one or two ministers who took it on their own to proceed with the investigation,” Browne said, adding that he was also mindful not to be accused of obstructing the course of justice.
“Now I have to admit that maybe I was not as forceful as I ought to have been and one of the reason for that is D. Gisele Isaac is my son’s godmother and I didn’t want anybody to accuse me of obscuring the course of justice,” he said.
But he said he was also taking full responsibility for the investigation.
“I take full responsibility because I am part of the Cabinet. I am not trying to exonerate myself from it,” Browne said, adding that he knew that the charges against Isaac would always be difficult to prove.
“But you have to understand that it is very difficult to get a conviction based on certain circumstances, and I am of the view that unless there is overwhelming evidence, that is an absolute slam dunk in which you have the evidence and you also have individuals to corroborate what happened, it is perhaps going to be an exercise in futility,” he said.
He told listeners that while the country is aware that the opposition Unity Progressive Party (UPP) had plundered the country “but can you prove it, and that is where the challenge lies”.
“I remember when this matter with D. Gisele Isaac and Serpent first featured, within a matter of weeks I took the position that the matter should be left alone. Not that I am saying that Serpent and D. Gisele Isaac did not do any wrong, but I felt that it would be difficult to prove the alleged wrongdoing.”
Following the court ruling, Isaac told reporters “to hear that I did my job with integrity, with honour, with respect and regard to procedures and the law and that today is not a majority thing, there is no case, I did nothing wrong,” Isaac told reporters after emerging from the Court.
“There never was a case, I did nothing wrong and I will stand and secure in the knowledge . . . I did nothing wrong,” she added. (CMC)