The Integrity Commission is not constituted to either win popularity contests or friends, chairman Ken Gordon said last night.
Noting that the commission’s role was to reduce corrupt behaviour, he said conflict was unavoidable.
Speaking at the Integrity Commission’s annual Christmas dinner at the Hyatt Regency, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain, last night, Gordon, without calling any names, also lamented that civilised behaviour was unfortunately not always appreciated.
Gordon was at the time reiterating that the Commission did not have to inform a person when a complaint has been lodged against him/her.
The matter had become a source of controversy recently when Attorney General Anand Ramlogan chastised the commission for failing to inform him that then People’s National Movement (PNM) MP Fitzgerald Hinds had filed a complaint against him over the purchase of the Range Rover.
“I refer to the suggestion that individuals have to be informed when complaints are made to the Integrity Commission about him or her. That issue was first raised on April 5, 2011, when the commission was advised by its investigation department that there was no law which required such advice to be given; advice which was reinforced in February, 2013 by senior counsel, who confirmed that position,” he said.
“It was pointed out such early advice would provide an opportunity to destroy or conceal evidence, thus compromising the investigation. The commission was advised to treat with this issue on a case by case basis and it has done so. Where early information had been provided, this has been done as a courtesy when the commission considered it appropriate to do so. Unfortunately, civilised behavour is not always appreciated,” Gordon stated.
Gordon renewed the call for amending the Integrity in Public Life Act to empower the commission to act rather than be “almost entirely dependent upon the co-operation of those being investigated”.
He said the commission itself has no power of sanction and its only route is through the High Court to compel compliance with some of its demands for information and documentation. But, even here, he noted, the commission was limited.
“A clear example of this is that a request for information or documents relating to the function of a public or private body which do not also relate to a person under investigation are not enforceable. Neither can the commission force a complainant or any witness to subject himself to oral examination,” Gordon stated.
He said the commission recently made an ex parte application with respect to 12 persons who failed to provide certain information as required. However it took five weeks before the order was served against the first declarant, and since then the court had given the person a further 30 days to comply with the requests for information.
“What it does mean is that where sanctions could have been applied promptly, once the issues were clearly established, long delays are inherently built into the existing system. ...
“Of course there is much to recommend the conservative approach. ... But these are not normal times, and it is important that instances of non-compliance and possible corruption be dealt with promptly,” he stressed. .
Gordon recommended the establishment of a national corruption index and said the Integrity Commission had been collaborating with the University of the West Indies to construct such an index, which could serve as a corruption barometer, designed to specifically measure the occurrence of actual corruption in Trinidad and Tobago.
Noting that Transparency International Perception Index had recently indicated Trinidad and Tobago had moved three points in the wrong direction, Gordon said it must be understood for what it is—“a perception”.
This perception was based on a survey framed in the developed world in circumstances that were significantly different from countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, he said.
“Our frequent and prominent public Commissions of Enquiry and public discussions on corruption related issues are designed to uncover corruption. This is part of the fight to expose failures of accountability, and significant sums of money are spent to do so.
“These result in front page newspaper stories and headline electronic media coverage which move quickly in today’s world with magnifying impact. Perception of the problem is frequently blown out of all proportion to the reality,” the chairman noted.
Gordon said over the past 1,139 declarations had been certified with another 2,700 being processed; 74 complaints were received and 38 were completed.