Thursday, January 18, 2018

Striving for integrity

FOLLOWING is the conclusion 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. Part 1 was published yesterday.

There have been equally significant developments in our public education and communication portfolio which has launched the Do Right Champions Annual Contest for primary and secondary schools. The Commission has established ongoing links with teachers through its symposiums on the role of the teacher in instilling integrity, hosted discussions with university students and opened up significant avenues of communication with our younger population. We are carrying our message to a new and critically important audience to whom already the word “integrity” is no longer just another word for our primary students to learn to spell. It means a way of life they must now aspire to live. And we are convinced at the Commission that it is not possible to quantify the importance of that message when it is understood at so early an age.

On Thursday 17th April, the Commission (launched) “LEAD Trinidad and Tobago”.

A collaboration between the Integrity Commission and the philosophy of “Leading from above the line”—A new phase of the journey to promote ethical conduct. Some of you may be already familiar with the concept of leading from above the line and it is an exercise which we are optimistic can lead to better governance through the transformation of our public institutions. Ultimately the objective is the more efficient delivery of public service.

I give you this background to emphasise that there is no short cut to making a serious impact on corrupt and dishonest behaviour. It is a fact that too many in our fortunate country have developed indiscipline, where virtually anything goes once you can get away with it. Our task must therefore be tackled both at the level of those who have not as yet been contaminated by this virulent virus and frontally where the day-to-day problem poses a serious threat to the healthy development of our country.

The promising public support for the Commission’s work to which I have referred earlier gives us hope and encouragement but the truth is that the process under the existing system has too many inherent delays built into it. Perhaps initially with good reason. But these are alarmingly different times. The tools with which we work need to be sharpened as other countries have done. The Commission cannot continue to work with incremental increases in pace with the same tools and expect inspiring results.

We have therefore spent almost two years in research and consultations to develop recommendations for amending the Integrity in Public Life Act. (It is) a document which we intend to submit to Government and Parliament before the end of August.

Some of the amendments we seek are:

• The need to establish means for enforcing the provisions of Section 5(2)(c) and Section 34 of the Act which gives the Commission the power to authorise investigations, summon witnesses and subpoena persons.

• The need to give the Commission powers of search and seizure, as well as arrest (vide Hong Kong and New South Wales)

• Section 32 be amended to include a provision imposing a duty on persons exercising public functions to report any act which he/she suspects may concern corrupt conduct.

Such amendment would have effect despite any duty of secrecy or other restriction on disclosure.

• The need to establish provision for the protection of “whistle-blowers”. The absence of such a provision is a clear disincentive to those who are inclined to come forward.

• The creation of systemic arrangements in order to facilitate the exchange of information between the Board of Inland Revenue, the Police Service, Customs, Immigration and the Financial Intelligence Unit. This is in order to avoid duplication of effort, enhance investigative capabilities and facilitate expeditious handling of investigations.

• The High Court should have the power to freeze the assets of a person under investigation.

The Commission also recommends that the Prevention of Corruption Act be amended and reinforced in the following ways:

• By making illegal a number of corrupt activities which are not presently captured.

• By making provision for the acceptance of a bribe to be an offence notwithstanding that the purpose of the bribe was not carried out.

• By amending the statutory presumption to include “any dealing with the Government or any department thereof or public body”.

• By making provision for the evidence of accomplices.

The full list of recommendations is included in the Commission’s Annual Report.

Mr Chairman, I have attempted to give you a snapshot of the current activities of the Integrity Commission. When the original authors of the Integrity in Public Life Act drafted this document they could not possibly have conceived the transformation which has taken place in the Trinidad and Tobago’s environment. The events which now confront us represent, if I can be forgiven the expression, “a whole new ball game”.

We must therefore ensure that the Integrity in Public Life Act provides the necessary empowerment:

i. To facilitate the flow of essential information between key state agencies;

ii. To speed up the process through which the Commission can take action; and

iii. To take today’s realities into account.

This cannot be done by standing still and planning for incremental improvements. Firm and deliberate action is now required if we are indeed serious about bringing the problem of corruption under control.