Thursday, January 18, 2018

Crucial challenge for Integrity Commission

Express editorial logo384

Mark Fraser

 The Integrity Commission has, for far too long, been saddled with the image of vulnerability to serious criticism and liability to hapless missteps. In a sense, this is almost inevitable since, in a small society like Trinidad and Tobago, members of the commission are going to be held to a higher standard than other public people and, being successful individuals in a society like T&T’s, are going to be hard-pressed to meet these standards.

This has been proven time and time again, as boards and commissioners have fallen on their swords for various transgressions, some so minor that they would have attracted little comment in any other public entity. 

The commission’s 26th annual report, however, profiles an institution subject to disadvantages not of its own making, yet still capable of little-heralded small success-story achievements. On account of the transition between Presidents Max Richards and Anthony Carmona, the commission was, for three months, disabled by being short of four commissioners. Even so, it successfully ensured that mandatory declarations by people in public life were submitted complete, winning High Court orders to oblige compliance.

Additionally, despite the commission’s scope of responsibi­lity having widened substantially, investigations are taking less time and the backlog of declarations is being cleared. Indeed, the commission is now so self-assured that its board has proposed an expansion of the commission’s remit to cover more people, and a general tightening-up of requirements applying to people under its purview. 

Such confidence, however, is entirely internal. What this board headed by former media mogul Ken Gordon fails to realise is that public confidence in the commission has not been bolstered since its members were appointed. On the contrary, the conflict between Mr Gordon and his former deputy commissioner, Gladys Gafoor, Mr Gordon’s meeting with Opposition Leader Keith Rowley, and the fact that retired justice Sebastian Ventour had to return to the bench to deliver outstanding judgments and then be re-sworn as a commissioner have all served to maintain the distrust engendered from previous boards’ missteps and mistakes.

It is therefore futile for the present Integrity Commission board to pursue expanded powers until members have proven themselves worthy of public confidence. 

Nonetheless, as the commission relocates into the high-end accommodation of the International Waterfront Centre, the authorities will hopefully ensure this critical commission is adequately furnished with the resources and legislated clout that will enable performance more in keeping with the high expectations of the Integrity in Public Life Act.