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Why integrity body needs blessed assurance

Without always doing much to deserve that status, the Integrity Commission lives up to its reputation of being everyone's whipping boy. During the People's Partnership's ill-fated THA campaign, the commission found itself dragged into the fray by no less a personage than Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Seeking to make the most of the THA's $310 million Milshirv Properties Project transaction, which has been sternly interrogated by herself and others in her administration, the Prime Minister wondered aloud at the lack of public enthusiasm shown by the Commission over the matter that had been referred to that body. Mrs Persad-Bissessar's impatience showed. She queried the "stony silence" maintained by the Integrity body, when she and the Partnership cohorts were urgently expecting more vociferously supportive signs of concern and attention.

No doubt hoping her bully pulpit would embarrass the Commission into making a response of a kind that would serve her purposes, the Prime Minister was quoted as asserting that the absence of public response marked "an appearance of bias". Inevitably, this was not a charge the much-lambasted Commission could take lightly.

It wrote to the President, the single authority responsible for its appointment, and to whom it considers itself singularly obliged to report. This was meant to remind the Prime Minister and the public of where the commission stood and whom it had to answer to.

The response was no doubt intended to affirm that the confidence of the President remained assured. Surely, if such confidence had been shaken in any way, it was up to the head of state to call the commissioners to account, and even to call for their resignations.

Nothing so far has happened to change that aspect of the status quo. In a public statement of its own, the commission shot back to the effect that the Prime Minister, willfully or not, had simply got it wrong: "Such comment is not consistent with the truth''.

If the commission had not rung any alarm bells about the Milshirv matter—an issue that has troubled many more minds than just those of the ruling administration—it was not because it had put it away on some ever-pending file. "It must be emphasised that it is not, nor has it ever been, the Commission's practice to announce any matters which are under investigation by the Commission,'' the release said.

The present body can speak for itself. It has been embattled in court over a dispute pitting one member against most of the rest. But it is the unhappy record that former commissioners have not consistently kept quiet about what is on its collective mind.

The THA campaign over, the Partnership/TOP need to portray the THA as under serious investigation becomes less pressing. But the fact that the Integrity Commission had to resort to bringing the President into this matter itself reflects the extent to which it may have fallen in public esteem.

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