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Let us all do the right thing

By Ken Gordon

FOLLOWING is an abridged version of the address by Ken Gordon, chairman of the Integrity Commission, at the commission's 25th anniversary dinner at the Hyatt Regency on December 13.

December is our anniversary month and we mark the beginning of the 25th year of the Integrity Commission, even as we say a proud farewell to the 50th anniversary of our nation…now fading…but not into oblivion. Then, with a stretch, which I hope you will find pleasurable, we warmly welcome the holy and inescapably festive season of Christmas.

If this suggests a multifaceted event, then so is the role of our commission, which in addition to its remit to be the guardian of the Integrity in Public Life Act, must deepen the fight against corruption. The link between these roles is inextricable for integrity cannot exist where there is corruption, and corrupt societies self-destruct.

The commission has had its share of controversy. Its very terms of reference make clear that it is neither constituted to win popularity contests nor win friends and influence people. Its primary role is to promote integrity and reduce corrupt behaviour. In discharging such responsibility conflict is unavoidable.

Today's reality leaves little room for mature and philosophical reflection about right and wrong. Standards have continued to fall, confusion surrounds us, civility is threatened, good manners and courtesy are disappearing and taking the principled and high ground on any issue is hardly understood. Divisiveness coupled with racial undertones and a vigorous and sometimes even irreverent democracy now set a troubled agenda for our society.

Our great good fortune is that there is an underlying sense of justice and fair play in this country which I am convinced can turn this situation around. But first, we must build the institutional strength. This requires consistency and where institutions like our own falter, we must unhesitatingly address the issues decisively and in principled terms. You may also have noticed that sometimes even when we have not faltered it is publicly suggested that we have. But now unlike what has obtained in the past, we shall, in the future, ensure that the facts are clearly understood.

The commission's principal activities over these 25 years have been the processing of declarations of people in public life and the investigation of complaints against people in public life. In the past 12 months the number of declarations certified has risen from 1,602 to 1,923 and the number of investigations completed was 41 in both years. In 2003 we conducted investigations into five complaints. In the current year that number has risen from five to 73.

A strategic plan has been developed and those initiatives, which have already been completed, are:

• Simplifying of the declaration forms and sharpening of focus on relevant information.

• Undertaking the examination of state agencies. The recommendations of the first report on the Arima Regional Corporation are in the process of being implemented. This on-going programme with selected state enterprises is designed to improve governance and accountability.

• Expansion of our public education programme by communicating more fully with the public when issues arise. Public support for the commission can only be forthcoming when its work and role are better understood. This will in no way reduce the absolute confidentiality with which matters before the commission are treated.

• We have produced a handbook entitled Frequently Asked Questions which provides answers to many of the questions likely to arise about the Integrity Commission and its operations.

• Making the "Do Right" Schools Programme a fixed part of the commission's annual calendar.

But most significantly was the launching of our public consultations to consider steps by which the Integrity in Public Life Act can be improved. Some of the recommendations which will be presented in our final document to the Attorney General for submission to Parliament are:

• Widening the commission's investigative process to include search and seizure as well as arrest;

• Establishing a regime to facilitate the exchange of information between institutions involved in the fight against corruption;

• Spelling out enforcement powers of investigation, summoning of witnesses and subpoena by the commission;

• Verification of information on declarations and speeding up processing;

• Widening the net of those required to submit declarations, including the chairman and commissioners of the Integrity Commission.

So this has been a good year for the commission and this would not have been possible without our other good fortune…our staff. I welcome this opportunity to publicly thank the Registrar and his competent team for the excellent contributions they continue to make to the work of the commission.

May I end with an appeal, ladies and gentlemen, for the task of the Integrity Commission is one which also poses a serious challenge to you and every other well-meaning citizen of this country. The bottom line is that we cannot legislate for integrity. It must be kept constantly before us as a way of life and we must make it into a culture that will guide how we live. Help us to promote the message to "Do the Right Thing''. There is always a choice about the decisions we take. Join us in the call to this beautiful country of ours with all its transient controversy, its varied and talented people and its excitement and charm—let's do the right thing.

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