The sheer pace of events surrounding the Integrity Commission and the startling series of revelations demand our attention, given the critical role of the Commission as the State’s principal anti-corruption agency.
The rising tide of corruption in our public affairs has been a constant, whichever political administration is in office, seemingly increasing since the IC was established in 1987. Two general observations emerge from that – we certainly need a respected, effective agency to tackle corruption in our public affairs, so we therefore need to look soberly at how the IC can be improved. I repeat that the Commission’s 2012 Annual Report contains serious proposals to improve its effectiveness.
My reading of these recent events is that there are two fundamental issues arising.
When one considers the Appeal Court ruling of June 27, it is clear that the very IC and AG’s office collaborated in a long-term plan to greatly limit the Commission’s powers, since its effect was to omit State Enterprises and bodies in which the State had a controlling interest from the Commission’s oversight. That decision was severely detrimental to our country’s Integrity Framework since most of the transactions in Public Money take place via those organisations. That Appeal Court decision was also contrary to the intention of Parliament. Consider that after passing the Integrity in Public Life Act 2000, on October 6, the Parliament amended that Act, on October 24, to specify that Board Members of Statutory Bodies, State Enterprises and bodies in which the State has a controlling interest were Public Officials under the IPLA. The BG View of 31 October sets out the point in valuable detail.
While it is true that neither the current AG or the current members of the IC were responsible for that collaboration, it is also true that these are both leading national institutions which should operate at all times in the Public Interest. That sort of approach would require the AG to take steps to correct the detrimental effects of that ruling. For one thing, the June 27 ruling directly contradicts the strategy being advanced in the IC’s 2012 Annual Report, published on March 11. As previously noted here, the Judiciary has not issued any explanation or media release to correct these perceptions.
If that ruling is allowed to stand as the interpretation of the IPLA, we are only going to see a worsening in the conduct of Public Officials. Given the poor record of our Police Service in tackling white-collar crime, the outlook is as turbid as it is grim.
The responsible officials are the AG and the IC, they must collaborate to achieve the essential task of elevating the levels of integrity in our Public Affairs. Given the ongoing escalation of the contentions between these public offices, that kind of vital collaboration might seem unlikely, but I am renewing my call to them. Good sense must prevail. The responsibilities of these public officeholders requires them both to act in accordance with our country’s long-term interests.
It is an unintended consequence of the current contention between the IC and the AG that we are now aware that the Commission is in the practice of notifying accused public officials at the start of investigations. I could not believe it when the truth of that bizarre practice became clear to me. Not only is that practice contrary to the provisions of the IPLA, but we are witness to a serious failure of policy in this important public institution. Powerful Public Officials who are notified of an impending investigation would have time to ‘fix their business’ and ultimately frustrate the IC. One has to wonder just where and when did that practice become accepted in the IC. Why do we allow these blatant double-standards to apply when white-collar crime is involved?
It is even more fascinating to trace the meaning of the positions taken by IC and the AG.
The IC’s Statement of November 18 is clear that an official letter intended to notify the AG of an impending investigation was prepared and also that such is their normal practice. In and of itself, an astonishing admission. The practice of notifying suspects at the outset of investigations is utter nonsense and to continue that is directly inimical to the Public Good.
The AG responded, in his Press Statement of November 20, with severe criticisms as to the seeming bias of the IC in dealing with complaints against him and other members of this Peoples Partnership administration. I find it equally astonishing that the AG did not condemn the practice of notifying public officials. If erratic and apparently biased notification was the observed behaviour, that is clearly wrong, since good public administration requires consistent decision-making. If the AG’s assertions on that count are true, then the IC needs to rectify that now. But if the apparent bias is established and condemned as being deplorable, why should the AG then push for adoption of a damaging standard in this critical area of Public Administration? It is deplorable that the AG seems to be ignoring the glaring fault in this practice of the IC.
On the same point, it is equally deplorable to note that the PNM is also silent on this glaring issue. I tell you.
The decay in our polity is such that not one dissenting voice can be heard from any of the members of our country’s political parties. The putrid politics of the time that means no one from the various camps can speak the truth. All the events are funneled thru the pathetic prism of party political posturing.
‘Manufactured consent‘ was the potent phrase I first encountered from Noam Chomsky in critiquing the schemes of the American Imperium. Chomsky, in warning of the schemes wrote of “…effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion…“.
That is what we have blowing in the wind here, in our Republic.
All of this was revealed collaterally, so there is also a need to revise the IC’s reporting practices.
In our current version of the alphabet is ‘A’ for Apple, ‘B’ for Bat and looking at the antics of the chiefs, is ‘C’ for yourself. With the ‘C’ taken for themselves, we are left with an Integrity Omission. Sad, true jokes at this sobering juncture.
We need to continue to press for resolution of those issues.