By Raffique Shah
April 01, 2017
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!