Integrity and Probity

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 27, 2016

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI am an old timer. I believe integrity in public life predates the establishment of the Integrity Committee. My mother, born in 1909, used to say: “When ah dead, if anybody say ah owe dem any money, tell dem dey lie.” Her word was her bond. She believed each of us possesses an innate sense of what is right and wrong which tells us when we have transgressed those boundaries. Such a credo was part of an ethical value system that we, as black people, learned from our nineteenth-century ancestors. In those days, we did not need an Integrity Committee to tell us what constitutes ethical behavior.

Today, we seem to have lost our moral and ethical compass. We can no longer differentiate between what’s right or wrong unless a committee tells us so. I empathize with Jabari Fraser when he asked our prime minister what constitutes ethical behavior in public office, particularly as it concerns the Marlene Mc Donald matter? (Express, September 16).

The Prime Minister replied: “I don’t have a crystal ball.”

The prime minister does not need a crystal ball to answer Fraser’s question, especially when he pontificated to the nation: “Our vision was, and still remains, that of a society where integrity and morality in public life would be of the highest priority” (Express, Sept. 11).

The Prime Minister should not wait for the Integrity Commission to determine Mc Donald’s guilt or innocence before he makes a determination in the matter. There are examples of how responsible leaders handle these matters.

About two weeks ago, Keith Vaz, an English MP step down from the chairmanship of powerful Home Affairs Committee when it was revealed he paid two male escorts for sex. Two days after the allegation he resigned his position. Buying sex in England is not against the law. There are 72,000 sex workers in the UK. Vaz broke no law, but the spectacle of the chairman of such a powerful committee prostituting himself was entirely unbecoming of someone in his position. He brought shame and disrepute to his office. He had to go.

Understanding he had fallen short of what was expected of him, he recognized: “Those who hold others to account must themselves be accountable” (Financial Times, Sept. 7). Laurence Udochukwu of Essex wrote, “It is irresponsible to buy sex. He is a bad role model and not fit to represent his community” (London Metro, Sept. 8).

The next case has to do with Jose Manuel Barroso, the former prime minister of Portugal who, after leaving his job as the chairman of the EU (European Commission), took up a job as an advisor to Goldman Sachs, a US investment bank. The rules of the EC demand that one waits 18 months after one leaves the commission to accept another appointment. Even then one has to apply to the EC for permission to work for another entity where one may use the information gathered in one’s former position for private gains.

Barroso waited 20 months after he left his EU position to take up a job with Goldman Sachs. That was not good enough for the present commissioner. He set up a committee to examine whether Barroso’s new position presents a conflict of interest. If he is found guilty, he can be prevented from taking up that position and lose his E15,000 per month pension. In the meanwhile, he has been stripped of all of the prerogatives that are accorded former commissioners.

French President Francois Hollande, in speaking of Barroso’s decision, commented: “It’s legally possible but morally unacceptable.” Pierre Moscovici, European Commissioner said Barroso’s decision was “bad for the image” of the EC. Borroso did not break any law—he waited 20 months before he accepted his job at Goldman Sachs—but the appearance of a conflict or how it “go look” trumped the day.

Our prime minister possesses a powerful intellect. There is no one better than he when it comes to de-constructing an argument as he displayed so magnificently as leader of the opposition. His challenge, however, lies in constructing a forward-looking agenda, reintroducing probity into government, and leading the nation to a new horizon. He is yet to prove his mantle in these regards.

If integrity and morality in public life matter then Marlene has no place in a leadership position of the government. If integrity and morality in public life is merely a slogan then Marlene has every right to return to folds of the PNM leadership team.

Selecting Mac Donald as a member of Cabinet will reflect poorly on the prime minister’s judgment. It risks nullifying any claims the government makes about being committed to “integrity and morality in public life.” It is a move the prime minister may live to regret.

4 thoughts on “Integrity and Probity”

  1. I have ben reading Cudjoe for years. I enjoy his offerings on art, literature and history. I often object to many of his political arguments, making assumptions about his motives, racial bias and political summations.
    I have actually gone back into many of his past articles to test this hypothesis. I am surprisingly rediscovering a refreshing objectivity in his writings. I admit to my own biases in the interpretation of many of his articles.
    For this article “the old timer” deserves kudos and respect.

  2. This analogy of Vaz reminds me of the Profumo-Christine Keeler affair . Whether you are black or brown some of the old folks in T&T know more of ethics and morality than the present generation. As expected there would be always some exceptions be it in Europe or elsewhere for e.g., when Patrick Solomon show who is manos by walking into the police station and getting his step son released . All this can be summed up by Panday, with his famous quote ‘Politics has a morality of it’s own’. The same applies for the DLP/ULF/UNC with Bhadase leading with gun in hand.

    Reading Cudjoe’s article is indeed refreshing that highlights the spiral decline of rubbing shoulders during election campaigns and the riding rough shod when in political office.

  3. Kamla got rid of at least 19 during her five years. The closest one being Jack Warner a man who self proclaimed that he made her Prime Minister. Warner would go on to launch a vociferous attack on the former PM laying out a mind boggle cultish set of accusations. He was like a wounded animal hungry for revenge. Today Kian, Yoruba, Neal quotes Warner as though he is Saint Peter. Yoruba a religious zealot even went so far as to regurgitate Warner’s so called “Indian policy” document.

    In politics your defender could become your accuser. The masses sometimes just follow a politician into the abyss. Warner’s biggest supporters were Indians so much so he polled the highest number of votes in a predominantly Indian constituency. The same could not be repeated in a PNM constituency. For the Hindus he was “hanuman”, the monkey god. One politician even “charhawy” and garland him.

    Politicians are a strange breed, to understand their psychosis and mind games is near impossible for a commoner like me. I could not tell lies or thief people money because I have a conscience. I sleep better on a clear conscience. It is not a matter of being caught it is a matter of personal integrity. A man could justify to himself and followers the killing of babies or as in the Middle East raping an 8 year old child hundreds of times just so that they can feel closer to their phedophile prophet. Human depravity and politics is a deadly combination. And so it is important to keep and maintain a high standard.

    For your viewing pleasure I would recommend the Bollywood movie Raajneeti(2010). One of the best one on politics.

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