Saturday, February 24, 2018

Striving for integrity

FOLLOWING is the first part of the text of Integrity Commission chairman Ken Gordon’s address at the Corporate Governance Seminar at the Ministry of Finance and the Economy on April 14.

A non-executive director of a State board who is an engineer by profession advises on the technical requirements for the purchase of a piece of equipment.  The tender notice is then advertised and his firm submits the winning bid.  The tenders committee explains that it selected the lowest bid that best fits the job specifications.  Is this integrity?

The chief executive officer, frustrated by the delays in the office of the chief personnel officer, calls on a qualified family friend to hold the position of accountant until he receives approval for the terms and conditions of the post. When the job is eventually advertised, the “acting’’ accountant is interviewed and is successful in the post. The HR manager explains that he won the appointment because he best understood the needs of the organisation.  Is this integrity?

While transcribing the minutes of board meetings the corporate secretary realises that it is the board’s intention to undertake a new construction project.  She advises her brother to form a company and to prepare to submit a bid for the works.  Is this integrity?

There are unending variations of such conflicts of interest and it is one of the major responsibilities of the five-member team of the Integrity Commission to unearth them where they exist and to create a culture which will eliminate corrupt behaviour.

The vision of transforming Trinidad and Tobago into a corruption-free country is a mammoth one.  It requires first of all a vivid imagination, courage and great faith in the future.  It also requires unwavering commitment to make a difference in the development and growth of our country.  Whether or not this vision is fully realisable, I suggest we have no option but to try to make it so.

The Integrity Commission was established a little more than 25 years ago with the objectives of:

• Becoming a performance-driven institution.

• Promoting the highest ethical standards by ensuring compliance with the Integrity in Public Life Act.

• Detecting corrupt practices and dishonest conduct; and

• Developing and promoting public education.  

All admirable and necessary objectives but finding the right formula for the way forward continues to be a work in progress.

Great credit must be given to the early commissioners who in some instances undertook direct investigations themselves. But the Commission was always a soft target for critics and the reality of taking sensitive decisions which impacted people’s lives frequently led to public attacks.  This, coupled with the Commission’s earlier practice of not explaining itself or its decisions, led to great misunderstanding of the Commission’s position on issues. Though now reversed, this led to an early erosion of public support which the Commission continues to have great difficulty in overcoming. 

The Commission is a creature of the Constitution and its cautiously settled powers are outlined in the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA), an Act of Parliament which stipulates that each person in public life must submit a declaration of income, assets and liabilities and a statement of registrable interests to the Integrity Commission by May 31 of each year.  Accountability which has two primary benefits.

(i) To allow an independent body to monitor inconsistencies in the declared income against changes in asset base of those in public life; and 

(ii) To detect and avoid potential conflicts of interest before they occur.

Currently the Integrity Commission has also found (the declarations) a valuable source of information in corruption investigations, especially when the underlying act of corruption may be difficult to prove.

The rules for filing are not difficult.  You file declarations for the year before you were appointed and each subsequent year thereafter. When you resign your obligations are complete when you file for the year of resignation.  There is no statute of limitations for the IPLA.   

In the past 12 months the Integrity Commission has broken new ground in publishing 131 persons’ names, seeking court orders against 13 persons and in accordance with Section  15 calling on the President to appoint a tribunal to investigate one person who has failed to comply with the Integrity in Public Life Act.  The Commission now awaits the President’s response.  And this is just the beginning.

The Commission has also moved within the past 18 months to expand its accountability net to encompass State enterprises. The Commission has since examined two state bodies, The Arima Borough Corporation and Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission and recommended improvements.

The other traditional activity of the Commission has been its investigative portfolio which is focussed on the elimination of corrupt behaviour by persons in public life.  In the past year the Commission has received some 92 complaints.  These are listed in our Annual Report,  which you may find of interest. Fifty-three of that number have been dealt with and closed.

This compares with 83 complaints received in 2012 with 47 completed; 75 received in 2011 with 42 completed; 63 received in 2010 with 39 completed; and 32 received in 2009 with six completed.

Significantly this consistent pattern of growth has occurred in spite of having lost more than one year of operating time from February 2009 to March 2012 and three and a half months from March 2013 to June of the same year due to circumstances entirely beyond the Commission’s control.

The conclusion which follows from this growing support for the Commission’s intervention is inescapable.  But I shall return to that.  

Concludes tomorrow