The problem is that members of the public might have been so distracted by the President's rumshop reference–a terse dismissal of their questions and concerns–that crucial aspects of his statement might have been lost.
President Anthony Carmona's reference to "rumshop logic" in describing citizens' comments about the latest fallouts from the Integrity Commission is unfortunate. Not only did it defeat what was an otherwise laudable attempt to bring clarity to an issue that has long been a focus of national concern and debate, it has also reinforced recent negative perceptions of that agency. The President was well within his rights to deal with the matter at length–he was, after all the focus of much of the criticisms following the latest implosion of that august body. Unfortunately, his choice of words and his condescending tone served to alienate rather then enlighten.
The too-frequent eruption of controversies within the Integrity Commission in recent years is the very valid reason that its effectiveness and relevance are being questioned. That fact should not escape President Carmona, who has the crucial role of appointing members to that body. More than five weeks have passed since the resignations of retired Justice Sebastian Ventour, the former deputy chairman, and Dr Shelley-Anne Lalchan. Those resignations, close on the heels of a controversial ruling from the Commission in the Emailgate matter, attracted considerable and mostly unflattering public scrutiny of that agency, and there was a great deal of interest in President Carmona's next move in dealing with the matter.
But apart from a very brief statement acknowledging and accepting the resignations of the two commissioners, the President has been mostly silent on the matter. His silence was a fertile breeding ground for the speculation, criticisms and negative statements, which apparently prompted his detailed statement on Wednesday.
However, it is good that he has finally spoken out and has done so at length on what was a very significant occasion for the Commission – two new members, acting High Court Judge Rajiv Persad and retired school principal Angela Long Lai, taking their oaths of office.
The problem is that members of the public might have been so distracted by the President's rumshop reference–a terse dismissal of their questions and concerns–that crucial aspects of his statement might have been lost. For example, there was the important information that even when down to three members, the Commission is validly constituted and can operate. It makes this latest issue different from occasions in the past when that body was non-functional for long stretches of time.
In response to the many calls for him to intervene when questions were raised about the Commission's handling to Emailgate, President Carmona underscored that its functions are "sacrosanct and not to be interfered with." He is not privy to the Commission's decision-making process and cannot intervene in any of decisions "legitimately arrived at." All these are important facts and it is good that President Carmona has put them into the public domain.
At the same time, however, he cannot overlook the fact that public confidence in the body has been severely eroded. The public has a right to have its say, even if its members do not have the insight of President Carmona. Dismissing it as "rumshop logic" is unfortunate.
Time will tell whether his decision to appoint two new members effectively addresses public concerns.
However, given the Integrity Commission's mandate to stop corruption and ensure transparency and accountability from public officials, President Carmona cannot ignore the need for a thorough examination of that body's processes, systems and procedures – through a variety of lenses.