THE INTEGRITY IN PUBLIC LIFE ACT & GOVERNANCE
The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce welcomes the appointment in June, after a considerable absence, of new members of the Integrity Commission.
This Commission is an important institution, established by the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, with a mandate to “ensure that persons in public life and persons exercising a public function comply with the laws governing integrity in the fulfilment of their duties”. The Chamber therefore shares the public view that the Commission should be regarded in accordance with the importance it deserves.
The Chamber is satisfied that, by and large, the Integrity in Public Life Act (the Act) provides the infrastructure, appropriate to foster good governance by persons in public life, save and except that we maintain that the statutory requirement by section 11 for annual filing of the declaration of one’s assets is a disincentive to those the country requires for public service. Those to whom good governance, conflict of interest principles, illicit gifts and corrupt activities are easily understood and identified, without the need to comply.
In our view, as with almost every other law in the country, the strict enforcement of the provisions of the Act, remains an area of grave concern. We note, with great trepidation, the numerous names of persons in public life published in the print media, who have violated section 11, yet we are unaware of any attempts by the Commission whatsoever, to address such violations by the enforcement of section 21, which provides penalties of $250,000 or ten years’ imprisonment and forfeiture of ill gotten gains. Perhaps, the prosecution of Basdeo Panday for his undisclosed bank account may be the only serious effort at public enforcement. Section 20 (4) and (5) requires everyone at the Commission to be sworn to secrecy. While this may be necessary, it must not be a convenient tool for use by the Commission in defending or excusing its failure to enforce every single provision of the Act, and so, set some example in leadership of good governance, confidence and respect for the Commission. The Chamber takes no pleasure in singling out the Integrity Commission for this criticism, for it is just as pertinent to the exercise of the powers of enforcement by most, if not all, other institutions of governance in this fair land.
When last have the police and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) invoked the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption (PoC) Act? In the Chamber’s opinion, while the Integrity in Public Life Act may be modern thinking, this PoC Act of 1987 is a simple one geared to address the ‘bobol’ at ground level. The task force we propose later in this article should be commissioned to enforce the powers given by this Act, so that the advantage taken by public officers of the man in the street who also accepts illegal consideration for Government and local services, may be satisfactorily addressed. The mere conviction of one wrongdoer will deter many others of similar ilk!
As we often speak to impediments to the ease of doing business in T&T, we must also acknowledge that a lack of integrity in public life does, too, impact on business. These barriers not only negatively impact efficiency, time, cost and legitimate expectation, but provide ripe opportunities for corruption of all types, the Licensing Authority, the ports, Customs, the justice system and anywhere the consent, approval, licence and signature of anyone is required for advancement of the process.
In very recent memory, popular perception of corruption, if not corruption itself, has been generated by contracts for goods and services in the public sector, under different political administrations. Remember those for the construction of Piarco Airport, as a result of which persons accused of corrupt activities are yet to face trial, ten years having elapsed since delivery of those goods and services. Remember the $2 million dollar national flag for the Hasley Crawford Stadium and now, the questionable role of SNL Lavain as a service provider in the construction of the Penal Hospital and its former links with our High Commissioner in Canada notwithstanding a ban from projects of the World Bank and the Canadian Development Agency, according to Member of Parliament Colm Imbert.
All of this, and even more which the Chamber would like to write about and cannot, because of constraints in space, merely fortify the repeated calls for the urgent enactment of legislation to regulate procurement in the public sector. The Chamber, the Joint Consultative Council, Transparency Trinidad and Tobago, the T&TManufacturers’ Association and many other civic bodies have repeatedly lobbied both present and past administrations for this statutory measure. Unfortunately, all responses by the relevant authorities to questions on the stage at which the Bill is presently, leave much to be desired, as most recently it was said to be “in process” and expected to be tabled “soon
Sooner or later, if not just now, the Government, the Opposition and civil society must become very become focused on addressing corruption and improving governance, transparency and accountability by promptly investigating and prosecuting those guilty of corrupt activities and violating the Act. What needs to happen in tandem with this is the provision of adequate resources to the various bodies – including the DPP, the Police and the Integrity Commission and our justice system. Consequently, the Chamber recommends the creation of a Task Force answerable to the Integrity Commission and at the disposal of the DPP, in dealing with any reference of any matter by the Commission to him by section 17 of the Act or in the prosecution of any charge involving corruption in the enforcement of any other law. This Task Force should include present and future Integrity Commission investigators who have police powers, persons with competent and appropriate skills to support investigations, the collection of credible and admissible evidence in support of prosecutions and prosecutors who will successfully, present charges and argue against any possible defences, in order to signal to society the leadership by the Commission in the thorough investigation, prosecution and conviction of those who break the Act or are guilty of corrupt activities.
This measure may seem extreme, , but recall that the 2013 G8 Summit held recently, focused on trade, transparency and tax issues, but at the heart of the agenda was the search for greater transparency in the conduct of business across the world. United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron and France’s Prime Minister Francois Hollande announced that both the the UK and France were committing to membership of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) following the USA in 2011. In announcing the decision, he said: This is good for government, good for business and good for citizens’.
T&T is already a member of EITI ahead of the UK and France, the next step is to transpose the words of Prime Minister Cameron to not only oil, gas, energy and mineral industries but, holistically, and on the platform of integrity, good governance, transparency and accountability in the interest of the continued growth and development of our country.
Extracted From: Trinidad & Tobago Chamber of Commerce