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A chance to do the right thing

 The Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI) has taken an invaluable step forward with its new Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC), which is designed to support people who witness or who are hurt by corruption. 

In the face of politicians’ calculated lack of alacrity in passing whistle-blower legislation, repealing libel laws, and in strengthening rather than undermining the Freedom of Information Act, the ALAC can provide a valuable avenue for citizens to take action against persons who abuse the power of their office for personal gain. The media, which have done more than any State entity to reveal official corruption, rely on credible sources and while our function does not go beyond reporting facts and opinion, our very reporting of wrong-doings has caused action to be taken against corrupt officials.

The new centre also has its limits. “Let me make it clear, at the ALAC we cannot investigate matters, we cannot prosecute matters, we cannot enforce,” TTTI vice-chairman and attorney Dion Abdool noted. However, the centre intends to collaborate with a number of agencies in its central goal of catching the corrupt. These include the Police Service’s Fraud Squad and Anti-corruption Bureau, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Police Complaints Authority, the Integrity Commission and the Hugh Wooding Law School. The Law School will provide personnel to establish a Specialist Legal Aid Clinic and, once the centre considers that a case should be pursued, the Law Association will appoint a panel of senior attorneys to give guidance.

 

The ALAC is evidently an idea whose time has come. In just a decade, offices of that name and nature have been opened in 61 countries. It is admirable that the TTTI, which has made a name for itself by championing the cause of anti-corruption and promoting international rankings, is with this centre embarking on concrete action to toward responsible investigation of what might otherwise remain ineffectual rumours and whisperings.  

 The T&T ALAC can therefore make a difference for people who have information but, until now, have had to take their chances with the media which, in furtherance of our own mandate, must also take our chances in sniffing out and exposing often well-covered corruption tracks. 

 In the final analysis, however, the centre’s effectiveness will depend on the willingness of citizens to come forward and report on official wrong-doing. It is almost a given that corrupt officials are already inventing strategies to stymie the ALAC and anyone who attempts to utilise it, not to mention politicians who will try to use the centre for slinging mud at their opponents. So providing good information will require trust, courage, and commitment by citizens. And therein lies the rub: are there enough key persons in T&T who are able and willing to do the right thing?

 
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