Oh, what a country!

By Raffique Shah
April 01, 2017

Raffique ShahPermit me to quote from a column I wrote in June last year. It is the first time I’m taking this liberty, but I feel compelled to so do, and I think readers will understand why as I proceed.

I wrote then, “When constitutionally-independent institutions in the country seem to be collapsing…and when the law proves to be the proverbial ass, then, Trinidad and Tobago, we have a problem…a very serious problem.

“…Last week the Integrity Commission published the names of more than 1,000 public officials who failed to file their declarations of interest forms, as they are required to under the Integrity in Public Life Act, over the period 2003 to 2014.

“Among them is one former prime minister, approximately 25 per cent of parliamentarians from all parties, hundreds of regional corporation councillors (among them prominent mayors), commissioners who served on statutory commissions, and a phalanx of State boards’ directors.

“There were repeat offenders who seem to have never complied but who continue to hold high offices to this day.

“The Act was proclaimed in 2000, under the Basdeo Panday administration, and the Commission established shortly thereafter. Broadly stated, their provisions and powers were intended to eliminate corruption by having all senior officials who have some control or influence over public funds declare their incomes, assets, etc, and those of their immediate families, every year.

“I imagine the reasoning was that if, one year after holding some high office, and in subsequent years, an official’s assets increased inexplicably, the declaration would unravel the mystery. He or she might be supremely lucky, winning the Lotto once or twice a year, especially when the jackpot reaches double digits.

“Personally, I believe the Integrity Act and Commission are a waste of time and money: you cannot induce integrity by legislation; a person either has it or he doesn’t.

“In the instant case, the commission has failed to have this huge number of officials file their declarations, and has failed to take any action against them. To underscore its impotence, it has resorted to publishing their names, hoping to ‘name and shame’ them.

“But how do you shame people who are shameless?

“In what was a case of supreme irony, the commission took legal action against one architect of the law, Mr Panday, and that came about only because he had filed his declaration in which he had failed to declare a ($1.6 million) bank account in London.

“He was charged in 2002 and the case was eventually dismissed by a magistrate in 2012—because the Commission had failed to follow due process.

“So Mr Panday was punished after he filed his declaration, but hundreds of others who refuse to file theirs are merely ‘named and shamed’. You see why I say the law is an ass?

“The Commission has the powers to pursue the delinquents via the High Court, and if they still fail to comply, they can be fined heavily, even jailed ($150,000 and five years imprisonment)—once due process is followed.

“But nothing further will come out of this, which is why I submit that the Act should be repealed and the commission disbanded: put them out of their misery.”

That, my friends, was what I wrote one year ago. Last week, the Integrity Commission published the names of 800-odd public officials who have failed to file their declarations, mostly for 2015, but also many who have not complied from as far back as 2012.

These are prominent people, many of them seen as exemplars in the society, the movers and shakers, some might say. They often comment on crime, on how murderers are getting away with, well, murder. They fulminate against banditry and general lawlessness. They condemn workers for low- or no-productivity and look down with scorn at what they see as the scum of society.

Yet, with the impunity we see displayed daily by common criminals, these high office-holders show absolute disregard for the Integrity in Public Life Act that they are sworn to uphold having offered themselves for public office (nobody coerced them). They all but break wind in the faces of the commissioners, who, I might add, are gluttons for public ridicule, endowed as they are with powers they seem impotent to exercise.

Put crudely, the Integrity Commissioners are constitutional eunuchs. Of the thousands of public officials who refused to declare annually their incomes, assets and liabilities, and those of their spouses and dependent children, not one has been forced to comply or charged. None.

When people at this level of the society flout the law with impunity and continue to hold high offices and pontificate to us lesser mortals, what do we expect from grassroots gangsters who exercise power through the barrel of a gun?

They are only following the leaders who are caught but never punished; the common criminals will hardly be caught, far less punished.

Oh, what a country!

5 thoughts on “Oh, what a country!”

  1. You’re quite right sir ‘What a Country’. Brings me back to the email gate scandal whereby the chairman of the Integrity Commission (IC); Zainool Hosein hounded by the media in 2012 for disclosing a premature statement. What became of this email-gate scandal? The architect of this IC legislation in 2000, Panday was brought, before the courts for failing to disclose his overseas bank account. As I remember the case was dismissed because of lack of maintain protocol by the authorities. These policy makers, legislators, CEOs, leaders (sharks) etc. get away with ‘do as I say but don’t do what I do’. Whereas, (the sardines) tend to be hauled in for serious (murders) and petty crimes (smoking weed) and pay for such in the courts. So where is the justice? It all comes back to the fact that institutions are run by people, and those people where most of them are shameless lack character and a cultural problem do exist in all. This problem has nothing to do with ethnicities because the lack of respect and compassion for one another and the laws of the land have resulted in a country gone to the dogs.

  2. Simply put no accountability, where there are no strong deterents breeds anarchy.

  3. Even the author of this timely, accurate and relevant article once exercised power through the barrel of a gun. This reminder has relevance because it points to the heart of everything that is wrong with T&T. It is a nation of characters influenced and deeply affected by its colonial and traditional past. Every institution has been tainted by corruption, incompetence and greed. Even the clergy has had its fair share of scandal and sexual impropriety. And Loyal Trini is totally correct when he claims that it has nothing to do with race. And please do not tell me that it happens in other countries. Our concern is T&T.
    The ingredients which shape and create this failing country are the distorted and undesirable characteristics of the Trini personality itself. The country is littered with egomaniacs, embellishers, and confabulators. They are all actors on a stage relishing their corruption, defending their phoney hypocrisy, and creating a culture which today is on full display.
    Oh, what a country!

    1. Yours is an accurate response to the many and varied problems which we face as a country. Your instincts points to the reality of who we are. The questions is, where do we go from here?

  4. “So Mr Panday was punished after he filed his declaration, but hundreds of others who refuse to file theirs are merely ‘named and shamed’. You see why I say the law is an ass?”

    The ruling class is not subjected to the laws that govern morality. We have a prime minister who enjoys a good public wine on underage girls. Outside children shows up at functions and the media says nothing.

    I point that out because to have an Integrity Commission means we needs leaders with integrity. PNM supporters are the worst of the lot pointing out all the flaws of KPB but ignoring any and everything related to the current honorable Prime Minister. It is the mystique of the PNM party and supporters to behave as though they are above reproach above the laws of the land.

    All of the aforementioned points to why we can’t have an integrity commission. It will be used to make a mocking and scoffing joke of the worst kind. Dr. Rowley used the integrity commission to investigate “emailgate” and to this day despite their ruling there are PNM supporters who think they are wrong. The fact is that Google supports the former PM and AG. He should be in jail for making such deleterious statements. The media ran with the story and talk shows wasted thousands of hours pursing the “agouti” that only existed in the imagination of the PNM made in balisier house boobolie.

    The integrity commission was an excellent idea, the father of it suffered the worst public scorning by not declaring money that he was not party to. A gift that could have been viewed as kickback or simply a friend concern for his daughter education. Nevertheless it spelt his political demise when a hot headed AG decide to turn against his leader.

    In the end there is enough political material to have at least 10 political plays made so that the follies of history can be preserved…..and laught at in nation where there is a serious crime and economic problem. Badly in need of some comic relief.

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