The Integrity in Public Life Act will turn 13 in November of this year. Most of us view the Act and the Integrity Commission as useless. The average citizen thinks the purpose of the IC is to find out the assets of persons functioning in public life and to publish an annual list of those public officials who have transgressed the law. Indeed, the Integrity Commission has done little to dispel that public perception of its duties.
The opening sentences of the Act states that the Commission’s purpose is to provide “for public disclosure, to regulate the conduct of persons exercising public functions; to preserve and promote the integrity of public officials and institutions…” What many of us don’t know is that the Integrity Commission has real teeth. Their duties don’t just stop at publishing a list of miscreants and submitting a report to the Senate every year. Their power reaches far beyond financial disclosure.
The folks over at the Integrity Commission can scrutinise any person in public life or exercising public functions. This includes the Prime Minister, the AG, Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, members of state boards, and persons working in the Public Service, Judicial and Legal Service, Police Service, Teaching service, Statutory Authorities’ Service Commission, Diplomatic Service and Advisers to the Government.
If you re-read that list slowly and digest its importance you will realise that the Integrity Commission has oversight of the activities of so many sectors of our country that if the Commission was properly staffed and working efficiently it should, theoretically, be able to root out a lot of the corruption and inefficiency prevalent in our society.
Further examination of the Act reveals that an investigation by the Integrity Commission could lead to more than just your name being published in the newspapers. There is a fine of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars attached to the offence of non-declaration of assets. As a person in public life, you also have to declare the assets and liabilities of your spouse and dependent children; and if you holding money or property in trust for another person you have to declare the trust, though not the specific details. Page 15 of the Integrity in Public Life Act has a long list of interests and must be declared. You have items such as contracts made with the state; companies or partnerships in which the person is an investor; beneficiary interest in any land; particulars relating to sources of income; and anything else that might cause conflict between private interests and public duties.
Are you wondering where I am going with this? Think Jack Warner, his spouse, their children, his assets and many affiliations that might be in conflict with his public life.
Mr Warner has been serving in public life since November 5th, 2007. His activities as a member of the Caribbean Football Union, Concacaf and FIFA are public knowledge. Since becoming a member of government in 2010 there have been allegations and speculations hovering over Warner. We have an Integrity Commission in Trinidad and Tobago that is at least a decade old. Why did it take a report from Concacaf to unearth information that Warner has been less than forthcoming about his business interests and financial transactions dating back from 2006?
Back in November 2012 there was a local newspaper report indicating Warner was the subject of a probe by the IC. Fixin TnT’s Kirk Waithe has been at the forefront of calls for Warner to be investigated based on discrepancies with public monies. In his complaint to the IC, Waithe pointed out funds being transferred from the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation into private accounts, and the transfers were often in the range of millions of dollars. Millions of dollars of public monies that we still await accountability on. And mind you, these discrepancies happened under a PNM regime; not UNC or PP. So we can’t even claim that it is Warner’s cronies who might be protecting him or smoothing the way.
When questioned about the nature of the probe, Martin Farrell, the Registrar of the IC, responded saying: “The Integrity Commission is not in a position to comment on your request. As you will appreciate, having regard to the nature of its mandate under the Integrity in Public Life Act, the Commission is required to treat with all matters with the utmost confidentiality.”
Fast forward now to April, 2013, in the aftermath of the report from Concacaf’s Integrity Committee and there is still a deafening silence from the various bodies and authorities here. The last we heard from the DPP on the matter of Warner, the police had been instructed to look into whether Warner had breached Customs and Excise laws. The probe by the AG into Warner seems to have stalled. And the Integrity Commission remains as enigmatic as ever. Saying little, but alluding to an ongoing probe that has thus far yielded little satisfaction to the public.
After reading the Concacaf Report you have to ask yourself what exactly is the problem with us here that we can have so many institutions and systems in place, and have them constantly fail us. Why is investigating Warner and making him answerable to the public so difficult? Why does an Integrity Commission, enacted with so much power on paper, often seem so weak? When exactly are these bodies responsible for public oversight actually going to start earning their keep? Or are we going to have to launch a probe not just into Warner, but into the integrity of our Commissions?
We spinning top in mud in this place….Full Dotish Mode!