Concerned about corruption in Trinidad and Tobago, the Integrity Commission is seeking to beef up its powers with a revised Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA) to properly supervise the people under its watch.
And through its recommended changes in legislation, the Commission is seeking to widen the net of people who must make annual declarations to the Commission—which includes judges and magistrates, special and technical advisers to Ministers, chief executives of all state enterprises, as well as the chairman and members of the Commission itself.
The Commission also recommended a total overhaul of declaration forms to facilitate efficient information capture of net worth and growth in assets.
The Commission is hoping to capture additional information such as financial or other contributions to political parties; financial or other favours granted to public officials; financial or other favours received by public officials; all associated businesses; all instances of supply of goods and services to the state and all instances of tenancy arrangements between the State and the declarant.
The Commission presented its proposed recommendations, which focus on three areas—uncovering corruption, maintaining oversight on persons in public life and winning wider public support—to the media yesterday.
The Commission also wants the Act to include provisions for offences by companies pertaining to bribery and corruption, penalties for such offences, and offences by companies facilitating breaches in the Act and associated penalties.
Commissioner Neil Rolingson said campaign financing was a major source of conflict and has not been included in the IPLA.
"We are not saying that people who have contributed to a party can't be a member of public life. We are saying they must declare," he said.
"We must have that information and we (the Integrity Commission) must be able to prevent that from happening." Questioned on what the intervention would look like, Rolingson said that while it was not finalised, it would probably make a statement on the conflict of interest.
Describing corruption as a "cancer", Rolingson said: "We are dealing with a cancer and when you're dealing with a cancer you have to be aggressive."
Ironically, Rolingson observed that the IPLA does not have a definition of corruption' in its Act.
Of concern, said Rolingson, is the fact that there appears to be no penalty for the breach of the Code of Conduct by persons in public life.
The Integrity Commission, he said, proposes that the Act create offences relating to a breach of the Code of Conduct.
Among the other recommendations the Integrity Commission is proposing are:
1. To give the Commission the power to authorise investigations, summon witnesses and subpoena persons.
2. A provision for review by the Supreme Court to safeguard individuals against any claim of abuse by the Commission.
3. The need to give the Commission powers of search and seizure as well as arrest.
4. The need to establish provision for the protection of "whistle-blowers". The absence acts as a disincentive to those individuals inclined to come forward.
5. The Commission also recommends that systemic arrangements be made to facilitate the exchange of information between the Board of Inland Revenue, the Police Service, Customs and Immigration, the Financial Intelligence Unit, in order to avoid duplication of effort, enhance investigative capabilities and facilitate expeditious handling of investigations.
When its comes to financial disclosure, the Integrity Commission is hoping to strengthen its powers in these areas:
1. To be able to advise the President to appoint a tribunal of two or more of its members to conduct any further enquiries into any declaration.
2. For there to be a provision for restraint orders to be imposed upon the use of the proceeds of blind trusts in certain circumstances.
3. The High Court should have the power to freeze the assets of a person under investigation.
Cognizant of the criticisms levelled at the Commission in recent times, chairman Ken Gordon said the recommendations are open to public consultation before a final draft is submitted to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan for the consideration of Parliament.
"My hope is that Parliament would be as equally concerned as we are with what is happening with corruption in the country," he said.
Gordon said if the Parliament shares a similar view he expects that they will do everything to speed up the process of tabling it into the legislative agenda.
Asked whether the widening of the net would restrict people from coming into public office, Gordon explained that there was always a balance to be struck.
He said corruption was a serious problem and "what you can't afford is to not do anything".