The Integrity Commission is continuing its efforts to revise the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA) to give greater effect to its anti-corruption work. I fully support those efforts.
The key challenge is to discern how Public Officials commit the corrupt acts the Commission is meant to reduce. It is therefore necessary to conduct a scrupulous examination of Commissions of Enquiry and other Inquiry (eg LifeSport) Reports & evidence; Auditor General’s Annual Reports; as well as the leading international learning on these questions.
Once the main methods of corrupt agents are discerned, it will then be necessary to consider how the existing powers of the Commission might be deployed in tackling those and if there are new powers needed.
‘Public Money’ is the term used to describe money due to or payable by the State, including those sums for which the State would be ultimately liable in the event of a default. Public Money is sometimes called Taxpayers’ Money. It is our Money. The leading learning from which we have drawn serious lessons in the campaign for Public Procurement reform is Lord Sharman’s 2001 Report to the British Parliament – Holding to Account – which was a thorough examination of the definition, role and need for control of ‘Public Money.’ We expanded on Sharman’s definition of ‘Public Money‘ so as to capture the full range of possibilities, but we have accepted his key finding as to the requirement that ‘Public Money‘ is to be managed to a higher standard of Accountability and Transparency than Private Money. The contemporary, best-practice position in respect of the management of and accountability for Public Money being that the private sector rules are the bare minimum. That position must be at the centre of any reform of the IPLA and should be enshrined in law.
Code of Conduct
The IPLA effectively contains two limbs – the first requires that Public Officials make declarations of their income, assets and liabilities and the second requires those officials to perform their duties in accordance with the ‘Code of Conduct’ as set out in Part IV. The majority of cases brought by or Notices from the IC are directed at Public Officials who fail to make proper declarations. Is there a single case in which breaches of the ‘Code of Conduct’ were cited in making a case or an adverse finding? It is in this failure or refusal to apply those IPLA provisions that much of the current mischief in our Public Affairs is left to flourish. Some of the largest State Enterprises are functioning in breach of the ‘Code of Conduct’ and as such the Public Officials running those bodies are liable to censure. The IPLA does not contain any penalties for breach of the ‘Code of Conduct’, so that needs to be rectified. I support the Commission’s proposals to make examination of declarations optional, as that shift would release resources for a greater focus on the ‘Code of Conduct’.
Power to make recommendations
S.36 (1) of the IPLA states –
“36. (1) A person in public life or a person exercising a public function may, by application in writing, request the Commission to give an opinion and make recommendations on any matter respecting his own obligations under this Act.”
The key flaw with this power is that it is limited to cases in which the Public Official first requests an investigation and what is more, the Commission can only release its findings/recommendations with the consent of that Official. That power must be extended to all cases, with the discretion as to publication of its findings/recommendations left to the Commission. The fundamental importance of the Public Interest should not be subordinated to the agenda of obstructive Public Officials. A good example of how those powers were used recently in a positive way was the Commission’s 12 September 2014 Report on the Ministry of the Environment & Water Resources with relation to issues of alleged improper conduct in relation to the grant of Saw-Millers Licences.
At present, the Commission notifies Public Officials who are being investigated. It seems counter-productive, to say the least, that the same Public Officials who are in charge of the papers which could prove their guilt are being notified by the Commission at the start of investigations. Little wonder that the Commission has had little impact on corruption. It is emblematic of the flagrant double-standards with respect to the detection and prosecution of ‘White Collar Crime’. One can hardly imagine the courtesy of ‘prior notice’ being extended to suspected rapists or murderers. The Commission needs to eliminate that practice of notifying persons to be investigated.
Improving the impact of the Commission’s findings
The Commission’s findings and recommendations must be effectively linked with other ‘gatekeeper’ regulators – eg ‘Fit & Proper’ regulations as controlled by the Central Bank, Professional bodies, T&T Securities and Exchange Commission and the Stock Exchange. The linkages need to be backward and forward, so that the Public Interest can be upheld by better-informed regulatory bodies. I have seen notices of penalties imposed by the TTSEC in relation to various Public Bodies which have issued bonds and failed to provide timely accounts. If the TTSEC fines were paid, it would have been out of Public Money, so there would be no personal cost to those Directors for their lawbreaking. Those findings would seem to constitute a breach of the ‘Code of Conduct’, but was the Commission formally notified? – examples are in the sidebar.
SIDEBAR – Lawbreaking State Business
The SEC has made Orders in respect of Contraventions of the Securities Industry Act 1995 and the Securities Industry Bye-Laws 1997. Those Orders are in relation to the failure of these huge State-owned Enterprises to publish their accounts –
- 19 March 2010 against HDC, with fines totalling $121,000 – see http://www.ttsec.org.tt/content/pub100326.pdf.
- 15 June 2011 against UDECOTT, with fines totalling $120,000 – see http://www.ttsec.org.tt/content/Order-for-settlement-re-UDECOTT.pdf.
- 25 July 2011 against HDC, with fines totalling $400,000 – see http://www.ttsec.org.tt/content/Order-for-settlement-re-Trinidad-and-Tobago-Housing-Development-Corporation.pdf.
SIDEBAR – Public Companies, Private Business
Some of the largest State Enterprises and Statutory Bodies are operating in breach of the ‘Code of Conduct’ in the IPLA, which requires at S.24 (3) that –
“(3) No person to whom this Part applies shall be a party to or shall undertake any project or activity involving the use of public funds in disregard of the Financial Orders or other Regulations applicable to such funds.”
At this time, there are no audited accounts for Caribbean Airlines Ltd (since 2008) or UDECOTT (since 2005) or Housing Development Corporation (since its inception in 2005). That is very serious since some of the largest State Enterprises and Statutory Bodies are refusing or failing to publish audited accounts as required by the published guidelines of the Ministry of Finance or their own statutes.
Declarations also to be linked
The declarations of Public Officials must also be linked to the Inland Revenue and Financial Intelligence Unit, so that they can be reconciled. With today’s information technology, that is no great task.
The October 2007 High Court ruling that members of the Judiciary were exempt from the provisions of the IPLA needs to be urgently revisited. The fact is that the Judiciary has an immense amount of power and discretion which at present is being exercised outside of the framework which binds other Public Officials. It is true that judicial decisions are subject to review, but the appearance of a beneficial exemption from the Integrity Framework does not inspire confidence.
The G20 countries recently agreed to start moves against secret shareholdings and nominee Directors. The effect of those proposed changes would be to effectively embargo Nominee Directors, Unissued shares and other ‘masking devices’ which are intended to conceal the ‘Ultimate Beneficial Owner’ of a company. Our Integrity laws need to reflect those practices.
Public Private Partnerships
The IPLA needs to restate the position that all Directors of State Enterprises and bodies under the control of the State are liable to its provisions. Of course, that would include the gigantic CL Financial.
It is critical that we get these issues right, there is no room for compromise here.