Today we continue to honour the work and memory of our late columnist Dana Seetahal SC by republishing the second of three of the many articles she wrote for the Express. The first article appeared last week and the final article will appear on May 31.
The Integrity Commission has been subjected to such intense scrutiny over the past few years that one wonders how any rational person could choose to sit on the Commission for minimal remuneration. Under the old pre-2000 law one heard little of the Commission. It was really only after the implementation of the new law in 2003 (when the requisite detailed, and some say onerous, forms were completed and issued) that the Commission came into its own. In recent times we have heard more of the Commission in a positive light than I daresay we ever had in its previous years and I feel that this must be good for the country.
Over the years the face of the Commission has changed but one cannot gainsay that it has been peopled by members who have been well respected by the public and who are generally considered to have been successful professionally. As the Act states at Section 4: “There is established an Integrity Commission consisting of a chairman, deputy chairman and three other members who shall be persons of integrity and high standing.”
Why then have there been so many changes in the membership? It is no secret that there have been matters in court which called into question how the Commission should operate: the procedure in one case; whether judges were required to declare in another. In three instances at least the chairmen did the honourable thing and resigned which resulted in the work of the Commission necessarily being delayed.
The mandate of the Commission is wide-ranging and includes: to receive, examine and retain all declarations filed with it under the Act; make such enquiries as it considers necessary in order to verify or determine the accuracy of a declaration; receive and investigate complaints regarding any alleged breaches of the Act or the commission or any suspected offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act and investigate the conduct of any person falling under the purview of the Commission which may be considered dishonest or conducive to corruption. The Commission is also mandated to examine the practices and procedures of public bodies, in order to facilitate the discovery of corrupt practices; instruct, advise and assist the heads of public bodies of changes in practices or procedures which may be necessary to reduce the occurrence of corrupt practices; and carry out programmes of public education intended to foster an understanding of standards of integrity.
Over the years the Commission has been known to be active in relation to checking the accuracy of declarations and even investigating the conduct of persons in public life. There has however in my view been insufficient attention to some other functions, such as public education. Many persons, despite the provisions of the Act, are unsure of the extent of their obligations or even when they may be on the brink of breaches of the law.
It was therefore very reassuring to note that the current Commission is extending its functions. On Friday last, for the first time, the Commission hosted what it termed an Open Day. Any person in public life was free without ceremony to attend and ask for information from and pose queries to the professional staff of the Commission as to any matter on which they needed enlightenment.
It was a whole-day affair and for the first time persons subject to the Act were able to seek clarity on a variety of issues outside of matters attendant to their own declaration. The result of this initiative must be that the persons in public life would be able to relate to the Commission in a non-adversarial way without the feeling that the Commission was out to “get” them. I trust the initiative continues at least twice a year.
Another thing I find commendable is the school competition on integrity sponsored by the Commission. It may well have been thought in the past that such an event might have somehow been beneath the purview of the Commission and if this is so then it was quite wrong. The competition allows children from both primary and secondary schools, by essays or paintings or any other medium, to convey their thoughts on what integrity means or involves. On a last check there were some 1,200 entries from children throughout the country. These children are demonstrating that at an early age they have become conscious of the whole concept of integrity and what it entails and this surely must augur well for the future of the country.
The Commission has also begun to embark on establishing a relationship with public bodies, as mandated under the Act. While the Act states that one of its functions is to examine the practices and procedures of public bodies, in order to facilitate the discovery of corrupt practices and to instruct or to advise these public bodies as to changes in practices or procedures which may be necessary to reduce corruption, very little has been done in this regard hitherto. Many public bodies, headed as they often are by persons who operate on a part-time basis, may not be aware of the types of mechanisms that are needed to prevent corruption or even how to detect it when it occurs.
The Integrity Commission in 2012 is coming into its own so that it is no longer seen as an ogre just waiting to pounce on people. It has shown that it is willing and able to assist those who are required to declare to comply with their duties. More importantly it has set about educating the wider public on what true integrity entails. Who knows, hopefully this knowledge will permeate from the schools upwards throughout this society.
(This article was first published on May 12, 2012)