Friday 17 November, 2017

Integrity watchdogs should bite, not just bark

Chairman of the Trinidad & Tobago Integrity Commision, Ken Gordon, and Sir David Simmons, former Attorney General and Chief Justice of Barbados and current Chairman of the Integrity Commisson of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Chairman of the Trinidad & Tobago Integrity Commision, Ken Gordon, and Sir David Simmons, former Attorney General and Chief Justice of Barbados and current Chairman of the Integrity Commisson of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

For integrity legislation to be effective, it must empower the relevant authorities to take firm action against corruption in public life.

This was some of the advice imparted by Ken Gordon, veteran publisher and Chairman of the Trinidad & Tobago Integrity Commission as he addressed an inaugural panel discussion hosted by the Integrity Group Barbados (IGB) on the topic, “Corruption: Cost, consequences and remedies”.

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Gordon was one of the invited speakers at the event, which also featured a presentation from Sir David Simmons, former Attorney General and Chief Justice of Barbados and current Chairman of the Integrity Commission in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), as well as commentary from communications specialist and spoken word artist, Adrian Green. Radio host, David Ellis, was the moderator.

At the start of the evening, it was announced that IGB, a fledgling apolitical citizens group, will be lobbying for Government to proclaim the Prevention of Corruption Act on December 9, which is designated as International Anti-Corruption Day. However, both Gordon and Sir David’s presentations highlighted there is much work to be done after such legislation comes into force.

During his address, which highlighted some of the challenges faced by the T&T Integrity Commission, Gordon said:

“Be sure that any act under which it [integrity body] operates does more than spell out good intentions. You will need specific authority if you should hope for decisive action.”

“The reality is that the Commission cannot fight the country’s major scourge with one hand tied behind its back. Until this is understood, it will remain a toothless tiger,” he observed.

Gordon gave an in-depth review of the challenges and complications faced by the Integrity Commission in his homeland, including lengthy delays, breaches of confidentiality, and loss of confidence and public respect. He noted that complications can easily arise and persons committed to upholding integrity must be “absolutely circumspect and careful in everything that you do”.

He noted that the Integrity Commission worked hard to move on from those stumbling blocks and focus on its priorities. These included conducting widespread consultation with private and public stakeholders in order to produce an updated Integrity in Public Life Act that would make provision for modern anti-corruption tools. However, he noted that they have been waiting three years for its enactment.

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Meanwhile, Sir David Simmons’ presentation demonstrated what successes can be achieved when an integrity commission is supported by firm measures to ensure compliance.

In the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), high public debt led to the exposure of widespread corruption among public officials to the extent that several Government Minister were brought before the courts.

Sir David gave a detailed account of how things have turned around since the implementation of a robust integrity mechanism, including the establishment in 2010 of an Integrity Commission.

Some of the functions of the Commission, whose independence is protected by the Constitution, include examining and verify declarations of assets by persons in public life; receiving and investigating allegations of corruption; helping public bodies to implement systems to reduce corruption; regulation of political parties including campaign funding, as well as administering a code of conduct for persons in public life.

Sir David reported that in the last seven years over 90 percent of persons classified as public officials have filed declarations of assets and among politicians, there has been 100 percent compliance.

Illustrating that the Commission’s work is taken seriously, he highlighted, “Last year, we put the Deputy Commissioner of Police before the courts for corruption – conflict of interest.”

According to Sir David, the rigorous application of the anti-corruption regulations has allowed the country’s economy to flourish.

“At the end of fiscal year 2015, the Government recorded operating surpluses of $77.3 million. At the end of 2016/2017 fiscal year, the surplus was of the order of $67.8 million. Tourism is soaring, investor confidence has returned and… Standard & Poors has rewarded the TCI a credit rating of BBB+,” he outlined.

He noted that the integrity legislation there also tackles private sector players who are complicit in public sector corruption and noted that over $24 million and over 3,000 acres of land has been recovered by the courts from such private entities.

Sir David said he believes the Commission’s work has brought the feeling that sincere efforts are being made to ensure that best practices in governance are being vigorously pursued in the TCI and to restore its international reputation.

He suggested that the TCI could serve as a model for a new legislative regime to combat corruption in Barbados but cautioned that legislation can only provide the infrastructure for regulation. He indicated that the final piece of the puzzle is the existence of personal integrity in politicians, public officials and persons in the private sector.

Both Sir David and Mr Gordon highlighted the importance of public education programmes, particularly within the school system, to engage citizens on the importance of integrity and negative impact of corruption.