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What now, integrity?

It was the 1995-2000 administration of former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday which wisely introduced and passed amendments to the Integrity in Public Life Act of 1987. This Act makes it binding on all public officials to disclose the nature of their assets and the assets of their spouses and children.

There is very good reason for this law and as far as we know the Integrity Commission, headed by former Justice of Appeal Gerard des Isles, was established to receive these statements and to request further information and details if what was provided in the first instance did not satisfy the Commission. Or, on the face of it, the Commission found that the information provided was unsatisfactory. For instance, if an official's assets far exceed his income.

We hear a great deal about transparency in matters of public interest, but how can this be advanced if the Integrity Commission is a secret body? It is not required to go public on any matter and has never found it necessary to ask the President to set up the sort of Tribunal which the law authorises to investigate any matter.

All that has so far been made public in the wake of allegations of misbehaviour in public office is what the media, using its own investigative resources, has been able to discover and which has led the media to be accused of concocting lies, half truths and innuendoes. Indeed officials seem to be more concerned about "leaks" than about integrity and transparency on the part of those in public life. What, one wonders would such people do if they lived in the UK or the USA? Would any politician in those countries holding high office be able to ignore the matters that have been raised in this country?

We don't think so. Just recently former President Bill Clinton had to disclose all the money he made on lectures after leaving the White House.

Are we to believe that all is well with all our officials all of whom are white as the driven snow? We would certainly hope that they were all squeaky clean, but we cannot be that naive. Indeed we get the impression that the Integrity Commission is just a group of people pushing papers from the in-tray to the tray marked "pending". And that in reality they will continue to stay under cover of secrecy, seeing nothing wrong, doing nothing. We sincerely hope that we are wrong and that the Integrity Commission is investigating concerns brought to its attention and that some mechanism will be found for getting at the truth no matter who is involved.

We must assume that our officials, past and present, have read and are acquainted with the Integrity In Public Life Act, which makes clear and specific reference to assets held by the holder of public office, the spouse and children.

On this subject we are at a loss to understand statements made by one of the Integrity Commissioners, Gordon Deane who said on Friday that the public has a part to play in maintaining integrity. How is the public to do this when it has no access to information? We do agree with Mr Deane, however, when he stated that when you steal in public life, you steal from the poor.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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