It’s an unfortunate reality that not many people are taught to be financially literate from an early age. Schools teach French, English and Spanish, but never the language of money.
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‘Rise from your slumber’
The Board of Inland Revenue which is key to making a dent in corruption has been described as a “sleeping giant” and was ordered to “rise from its slumber.”
Making the call was President Anthony Carmona while speaking at the opening ceremony of the Integrity Commission’s regional conference of the Commonwealth Caribbean Association of Integrity Commissions and Anti-Corruption Bodies, themed “The role of the integrity commissions and anti-corruption bodies in transforming the Commonwealth Caribbean,” held at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.
The conference is expected to end on Friday.
Carmona said as much as the law continued to evolve, there were already laws which were implementable but were not being implemented throughout the region including the Proceeds of Crime Act, money laundering legislation and the Prevention of Corruption Act.
“The one with the fatal sting in its scorpion tail is the Prevention of Corruption Act, a piece of legislation that I had input in. It was considered draconian and it is, yet it is indeed a rare moment when this particular piece of legislation is invoked.
“What about the scorpion itself, the Board of Inland Revenue. During my some 30 years as a state prosecutor and then as a deputy director of public prosecutions and finally as a criminal judge, I have pronounced on the potential effective utility of the Board of Inland Revenue in T&T and correspondingly in the Caribbean region. I can recall that whenever I mentioned it at workshops and conferences, the room would go silent and officials in authority would look at me with a jaundiced eye,” Carmona added.
He said society had become a place where the goodwill of people could no longer be depended upon, adding that there have been allegations of profligate enrichment by those in authority.
“There have been complaints and observations for just as many years that the asset base of politicians is inconsistent with their income and tax returns and there has been a hue and cry for the intervention of the Integrity Commission or the Fraud Squad.
“Why are we taking such a divergent route when we can wake up that sleeping giant called the Board of Inland Revenue? Rise from your slumber,” Carmona said.
The issue of confidentiality was also brought to the fore as the President said people who fell under the ambit of the integrity commissions had expressed great apprehension that highly personal information, mainly of a financial nature, was not absolutely secure.
“I therefore submit that this issue of confidentiality touches a raw nerve and needs to be treated more stringently and with greater sensitivity.
“There has to be a modernisation of the process of handling confidential data by the integrity commissions of the region with watertight safeguards, and it invariably will impact on the willingness of persons to serve as commissioners and will ease the minds of those who are required to report to the various integrity commissions in the regions,” Carmona said.
He also urged that in order to ensure the integrity of the very integrity commissions throughout the Caribbean, confidentiality must be the bedrock, especially given how society throughout the Caribbean was so interconnected.
Chairman of T&T’s Integrity Commission, retired justice Zainool Hosein who delivered the welcome remarks, said through the conference it was hoped that anti-corruption measures would be brought in line with international best practices.
He said the conference was the first of its kind in T&T and offered an opportunity to take a renewed look at how the respective systems were working to cope with the present needs and what their likely response would be in the future.
“It is our hope that appropriate changes, where necessary, will be made,” Hosein said.
Chair of the Commonwealth Caribbean Association of Integrity Commissions and Anti-Corruption Bodies, retired justice Dame Monica Joseph, also emphasised the need to root out corruption.
She said while there have been and would continue to be challenges both in and out of court, all parties must work together for one common good.
Deputy Secretary-General, Commonwealth Secretariat, Deodat Maharaj said to lure investors to the Caribbean it was critical to enhance transparency and accountability.
Corruption could not be tolerated in any form, Maharaj said, and this was especially so in small states as every dollar lost to corruption was a dollar lost to health care or education.
“The beauty of the region masks the fact that it was one of most heavily indebted regions on this planet,” Maharaj added.