Integrity In Public Life

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G.A. Dwyer Astaphan

By G.A.Dwyer Astaphan

Integrity in Public Life legislation is important in a democracy. And it saves taxpayers enormous amounts of money.

It was one of the two main planks in the Labour Party’s campaigns of 1993 and 1995.

The other was Law and Order.

After Labour’s victory in 1995, many people believed that not only would Labour deliver and perform accordingly, but that they would perform in quick fashion, given the zeal and passion with which they had made the case  in those two elections.

But a year passed, and nothing happened. Then two, then three, then five, ten, fifteen, and more years, and still nothing.

Clearly, the Labour Party had very quickly lost its appetite for Integrity in Public Life legislation.

Also, let’s be fair, after that election, the people of this land never really demonstrated much of an appetite for such legislation either.

But to be brutally honest, how aware do you think much of our populace would’ve been on matters relating to Integrity in Public Life?

By 1995, the voters were sufficiently fed up with the Simmonds Administration, and with individuals in and around it,  and they wanted to get rid of them.

And a number of people had lost hope. They wanted a chance to get a house, or a piece of land, or a job.

In my opinion, and I say this looking back in time, while the talk of Integrity in Public Life may have found traction with some voters, the majority were focused on things that they saw as more immediate, tangible and personal.

Which perhaps helps to explain why subsequent elections were held in 2000, 2004 and 2010, with little rumbling, if any, about Integrity in Public Life.

Another observation is that by 2010, the culture of self had become so deeply embedded, with the attendant erosion of values, ethics and morality, that many people didn’t seem to give a damn about Integrity in Public Life, or integrity period. Once they got their money or whatever else they desired for the moment, cool!!! More about self, and little or nothing about the ‘big picture’.

But by 2013, with the country already in election mode, the pollsters advised the politicians that Integrity in Public Life legislation would be a hot topic. Clearly, a critical mass of voters had become fed up and genuinely wanted a new and better approach to governance.

So having survived the elections of 2000, 2004 and 2010, the Labour Party decided in September, 2013, that it was time to take the legislation to Parliament. They felt that they had avoided it successfully for long enough, and now they would pass the Integrity in Public Life Act.

But not so fast. They wouldn’t go all the way. They would pass an Act that would come into force on a future date,  if and when so appointed by the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs.

Their hope was to get through the election without having the Minister bring the Act into force, then after the election, to put it on the shelf to gather cobwebs for as long as possible, not unlike the Motion of No Confidence matter. Remember that?

Let’s have a quick look at parts of the Act.

Its objective is to provide for a Code of Conduct and Declaration of Interests by public officials.

Its Code of Conduct states, among other things, that: (i) i public officials must avoid conflicts (real, potential or apparent) between their private interests and their public duties;(ii) they must  not take advantage of their position for private interest; and (iii) they must always conduct themselves in such a way that the public’s confidence and trust in the integrity, impartiality and effectiveness of the public services are preserved and enhanced.

Among the offences listed in the Act is abuse of office, which happens in a number of circumstances, for example: (i) if a public official seeks or accepts personal or private benefit for himself or herself or for a member of his or her family or a person associated with him or her, whether or not the benefit places him or her under an obligation to the person giving or receiving the benefit; or (ii) uses public funds or resources for private purposes, including party political purposes.

Abuse of office can cause a public official to cough up as much as $30,000.00 in fines, and serve up to five years in prison.

The Act also states that “a conflict of interest arises from a situation in which a public official has a private interest which is such as to influence, or appear to influence, the objective performance of his or her official duties”.

And “a public official private interest includes any advantage to himself or herself, to his or her family, close relatives, friends, and persons or organizations with whom he or she has had business or personal relations”..

The Act applies to Members of Cabinet, Members of Parliament, including the Speaker, Heads of Diplomatic Missions, Heads of Police, Defence Force and Prisons, Parliamentary Secretaries, permanent Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, Solicitor General and certain higher level legal officers in the public sector, Board Members of Statutory Bodies, Department Heads, Directors and Managers of State-owned or controlled Banks or other financial institutions, Director of Audit, Political Party Heads, and Declared Candidates for Political Office.

And, of course, the Act provides for an Integrity Commission comprised of people who are strong on integrity, diligence, competence, judgment and impartiality.

That, in a nutshell, is the Act. But it isn’t in force.

Think back over the years and imagine if it had been in force. There might’ve been some very interesting bacchanal going on in this country. But I suppose some people don’t like bacchanal. At least, not that kind of bacchanal!

Now the higher up you reach as a public official, especially a publicly elected official, the higher is the standard that will be expected of you. That’s what leadership is all about.

You are entrusted with an extraordinary amount of power. And Integrity legislation, properly administered, is one of the mechanisms to curb you from acting excessively and contrary to the public interest.  So the constraints on you are far greater than those imposed by law and ethics on ordinary citizens. If you have the power, fairness and democracy says that you have to pay a price.

Of course, many politicians don’t like to hear this. And they do their thing, as long as they’re allowed by the people to.

Prior to February 15th, 2015, we had an Administration made up of, and supported by, capable people. But that Administration failed the trust that had been bestowed upon them by the people of this country. There’s manifold evidence that they were unworthy guardians of the national cheese.

Since February 16, 2015, we’ve had a new Administration also made up of, and supported by, some very capable people.

Like their predecessors, they campaigned passionately and ardently for, and gave the highest priority to, Integrity in Public Life legislation, even drafting a Bill for debate in the Parliament while they were in Opposition.

But today we still don’t have the law. And we’re hearing and seeing troubling things. Are these things troubling them as much as they’re troubling so many of us? Or do they think that all is okay?

Like the Police High Command, they’re on probation too. And they need to prove themselves worthy of our trust, if we are keep them in charge of our nation’s cheese.