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Time to set aside the Integrity Commission
The Integrity Commission was a creation of the 1976 republican constitution and had its genesis in a recommendation of the Wooding Constitution Commission for the creation of a Parliamentary Integrity Commission. Nothing was done to implement the Integrity Commission provision in the new constitution until 1987. Further action was taken in 2000 to broaden the scope of people included as well as to enhance the powers of the Commission.
The reality is that the Commission has been unable to have the kind of impact that was intended. Instead, it has become embroiled in litigation and controversy over the years that has damaged its public image and the public perception of it.
The last three chairmen of the Integrity Commission have all had to resign because of controversies associated with them. This has had a negative impact on the Commission.
At the same time, it has also become a popular port of call for the settling of all kinds of political disputes that can range from building houses to staying at houses. A new political tool is now available in the public domain for public officials to have their personal lives investigated. The intention was obviously to find a way to investigate statements of assets, liabilities and income of designated public officials. It has turned out to be much more than that.
The society that we live in has a penchant for bacchanal, confusion and “commesse” to use the local jargon. Is it a long or a short step to transfer that mindset into the operations of such a commission which can undermine its lofty intentions? The settling of political scores or the ability to find new ways to wound political opponents appears to be what some people would like to get out of having an Integrity Commission.
People in public life on both sides of the political aisle have had their problems with the Commission and now the Commission is itself embroiled in litigation related to its internal functioning. Perhaps the time has come for both the Government and the Opposition to decide to set aside the Integrity Commission and to replace it with an Anti-Corruption Commission which can focus upon specific allegations of corruption as opposed to having a Commission that is supposed to promote integrity in public life.
Seeking to cast a net of integrity in a society like ours is difficult because of the small nature of the society. Fighting specific allegations of corruption may be easier. My own proposal would be for a change from the Integrity Commission and to replace it with an Anti-Corruption Commission. The problem in the society is not whether we can find people of integrity to serve in various capacities because there is no shortage of such people, but rather whether we can investigate people who may be suspected of being involved in corrupt activity.
Many people of integrity would like to give of their service to the country, but they are not prepared to subject their families to the potential of exposure of their personal and confidential affairs given the penchant for bacchanal, confusion and “commesse”. Wrongdoing in public office can be attacked at source as there is now a better cultivated whistleblower culture and a media that is prepared to expose all kinds of activity on all sides of the political divide.
The philosophical intent of the State should now shift from keeping qualified people away from public service to providing the mechanisms for prosecuting wrongdoers in public office. At present, that is a major shortcoming of the Integrity Commission. Additionally, the Commission is now severely handicapped in respect of its public image.
After the fiasco of May 2009 where the entire Commission collapsed in the space of eight days, it was extremely difficult for the President to constitute a new Commission and it took him from May 2009 to March 2010 to put a new Commission together. The political forces on both sides of the Parliament may wish to seize this opportunity to reach across the aisle to construct a new entity with a different focus, but having the same intention.
Conflict of interest, abuse of power, improper conduct in office, financial impropriety in office can all be investigated by an Anti-Corruption Commission. The submission of assets, liabilities and income for implicated individuals and their spouses can be requested if there is a prima facie case for further investigation.
This will have the effect of broadening the pool of talent available to the State for the performance of public duty, while empowering the State to conduct realistic investigations into allegations of impropriety by any official. There can also be a requirement for every public official upon assuming office to sign a declaration permitting the Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate them should there be any allegation in respect of their service in the office and duties upon which they are about to enter.
This declaration can take the place of the current requirement to file a declaration of assets, liabilities and income at the end of each specified period on an annual basis.
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