Integrity Act must be fair to all

By Raffique Shah
Sunday, May 17th 2009

The Integrity Commission of Trinidad and TobagoFRANKLY, I don’t give a flying fig whether President Max Richards opts to stay in a ski-lodge in the Alps for the entire summer, or he and Mrs Richards rent a castle in Austria, or they drop in on Denis Solomon at his “remote cottage” in north Italy, as he once described it to me. What I resent is every-man-Jack-or-Bas calling on President Max to return home pronto.

Why the haste to have him back in Trinidad? That he has thoroughly mucked up an attempt to reconstitute the Integrity Commission is the least of his sins. Do people really believe he would give a plausible explanation for his fundamental errors in that exercise? Or that he is so gifted, he would work miracles and have a new, acceptable Commission in place in short order?

Let’s be brutally frank: President Max has not distinguished himself in any way ever since he was elected to the highest office in the country. I cannot think of a single act on his part that is worthy of praise. Worse, coming as he did after Presidents Robinson and Hassanali, two distinguished sons of the soil, he has paled by comparison. Some people believe Robinson was “too political”, and maybe that’s a fair comment. Indeed, he rubbed many politicians the wrong way by things he said or did. Mr Hassanali proved to be the best president we’ve had since becoming a republic in 1976-a commoner who rose through the ranks by sheer ability, one who could mingle with the élite yet not lose the common touch. Most of all, his integrity was beyond question.

My concern at this point is not about an Integrity Commission being in place. I think Registrar Martin Farrell and his staff are perfectly capable of carrying out their duties in the absence of a duly appointed Commission. Indeed, they may even function better, not having the latter peeping over their shoulders, or politicians attempting to bully them one way or other. I don’t know what the legal position is, whether staff at the Commission can demand compliance, issue certificates of clearance, or lay charges against those in public office who breach the Act.

I do have an interest, though, in the amendment Bill currently before Parliament. I am in the fortunate position of having operated on both sides of the fence. I am a journalist who would expose malfeasance on the part of public officials if I have proof they are guilty of a crime. And I am a public official who fiercely defends my integrity, but who nevertheless is subject to being investigated by the Commission, the police, or my colleagues in the media. I have not seen or read the Bill, but having listened to the AG and several government ministers defend it, and opposition MPs, independent and opposition senators oppose it, I think I get the gist of what the Bill seeks to do.

As a journalist (or parliamentarian-Jah forbid!), I would want to know I have easy access to information on public officials who may be involved in shady activities or downright fraud. I don’t know how many people here have followed what’s happening in Britain. There, members of the House of Lords, ministers and opposition parliamentarians have been exposed (mainly by the media) as having padded expenditure, made false claims for allowances, and worse. Indeed, from wealthy OECD countries to poor nations where millions of ordinary people starve, politicians and public officials have a nasty reputation for unbridled corruption.

I believe such persons should be jailed, and not placed in any special prisons, but among common thieves-which is where they belong. For far too long ordinary citizens, some of whom “like it so” (as Sparrow sang), have been robbed blind by these bandits disguised in jackets-and-ties. It’s time to clamp down on them, to make them pay for their heinous crimes. Once due process has been followed, ram the fear of God into their sullied souls.

By similar token, though, public officials who carry out their duties with due diligence, but who are subjected to scurrilous, unwarranted attacks by journalists or politicians or members of the public, need to have recourse against those who tarnish their characters.

When I was an editor I told journalists they could not rely on unsigned documents or even sworn affidavits to support allegations against anyone. Only a final judgement by an appropriate authority gives one the right to make a definitive statement: you, sir, are a thief!

Instead, people who volunteer for public office that often pays peanuts are subjected to worst forms of abuse, often in the highest forum in the country, Parliament. The PAEC, in an official report, recommended that my fellow directors and I be charged for contempt and fraud! And we have no recourse against the “alligators” (as the late Joffre Serrette would have said).

Integrity laws and other measures to curb corruption are necessary, but they must have teeth. They must also allow for fairness, for those who are wronged to have their names cleared, and provisions for the malicious “alligators” to pay for public mischief-out of their private purses.

4 thoughts on “Integrity Act must be fair to all”

  1. There is hardly an institution in this so called independent country of Trinidad and Tobago that works well enough to serve the needs of the citizens who depend on the viability of such organizations to serve without favour or ill-will. The problem starts with their naming procedures. Why must we always have someone who excelled in law, medicine, politics or finance and must be nationally know before he or she can be accepted?

    Every one of us know of people whose integrity is beyond reproach and can ably be a part of an organisation such as the Integrity Commission, where they can serve with honour. We have been fed spoonfuls of beliefs that in order for one’s public service can be accepted we must be sipping cocktails with the president or some other big politicians. That is BS! It is time that we look for good people in the citizenry not necessarily related to party or politics, that are well-meaning but can be an asset to our country.

    Why cant we stop believing that our future lies in the hands of big party politics? or big politicians or the machinery of big business where greed is the only word they know?

    It is time we challenge the powers that be and tell them to listen to us and hear what we have to say for a change. Why cant we nominate ‘Tom Brown’ or ‘Harry Lall’ or ‘Sylvester Subero’ who might be outstanding commissioners without having a Mr. Big as their friend?

  2. I feel so ashamed that some of the people that high hold high office have no integrity.

    I a youth have to look up to these people! and now I prefer to look away, because they give me no hope for the future.

    I am willing to volunteer myself if all of them are corrupt, the laws were agreed upon by the people and I believe the ordinary citizen who is atleast versed in the laws of T&T should be allowed to participate in this integrity commission.

  3. I saw a picture of Max yesterday. By his face the poor fellow looked edentulous and disgusted.
    The Prez is a bright fellow. As such he has known with metaphysical certitude all along that the very concept of an “Integrity Commission” made up of Trinidadians, was so ridiculous a concept, as to deserve no more than the time it took him to round up those Would-be Commissioners, witness the spectable of their oath taking, and then bugger off to the Alps.
    I think the Prez has known that he can have brought about no crisis of whatever kind by his actions, inasmuch as the ingredients for such an event don’t exist. Not much reason to come home as the evidence suggests. So long for now.

  4. Has anyone given serious thought to appointing a team of nine twelve year olds to be the Integrity Commission? My faith in childen tells me they can do as excellent a job as anyone else, without the baggage.
    The nine should include as equal a number of boys and girls as possible. I’d go for five girls for obvious reasons. They must come from a variety of schools(being literate is a requirement so some slave like person on somebody’s horse farm will not do. )They must represent the north, south ,east and Tobago, must make up the major religions of the country, with the Orisha and Spiritual Baptists being given a representative and not lumped with Christians. They must be multiethnic.

    Now, their meeting places must be rotated. Port-of-Spain is not the only place where issues could be discussed. Perhaps a room in the library of the University at St. Augustine would be a good place for initial meetings. They woud declare their assets at the beginning-and pledge not to accept gifts, nor must their families accept gifts from people on their behalf. (The former President of S. Korea committed suicide for this, our rascal is still being curmudgeon in chief in the parliament.)
    Legal representation on the commission will be provided from a pool of lawyers who volunteer, and each should serve only for three sessions of the Commision, lest he or she think they are too valuable. Keep them humble.

    All expenses for the meetings of these children must be borne from the public purse, and each member will be accompanied by the parent who is not the primary breadwinner. In the case of single parents, the parent or other temporary guardian will accompany the child. A strict basis of compensation for gas/transport would be devised, and a meal allowance of twenty dollars or so be paid to the attendees. If a child misses a meeting, it goes without saying that the meal allowance would not be paid.

    People petitioning the commission about any grievances, must submit them for one meeting, to be discussed or heard at the next meeting, thus allowing time for research. The findings would be public, and published within a week of the decision being made at the meeting.
    For this, the lawyer on rotation will be compensated at a stated rate. Not per hour, lest a lack of integrity allows for padding the number of hours.

    Students who serve would be given civics credits for this, and will not have to take the exams that year, in that subject.

    People, our children need to devise a better system of living, and at this point, it seems that they cannot learn much from the adults.
    Religious leaders may not meet with any member of the commission privately, less they try to force the child to toe their particular line. Any religious leaderfound trying to co-erce a member of the commission would have their licence to practie that religion as a priest or pastor revoked. Any lawyer found haveing contact with a member of the commission, when bnot serving as advisor could have the licence revoked.

    Children can cut the crap out big time and get to the important issues. Their vision can be refreshingly clear. I make this suggestion seriously. They will inherit the world we are screwing up. Let them have a say.

Comments are closed.