July 22, 2011
Public officials should be above suspicion

Fri, Jul 22, 2011

SEARCHLIGHT welcomes the announcement by the Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace, that he is, at long last, going to exercise his constitutional responsibility to summon a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. For reasons best known to him, he has hitherto shirked this responsibility, but apparently has now had a most welcomed change of heart.{{more}}

Eustace’s announcement has come in the wake of a controversy surrounding the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Tourism Authority Glen Beache, occasioning a call from the Opposition Leader for Beache’s resignation. Previous to his appointment as CEO of the Tourism Authority, Beache had served as Parliamentary representative for the South Windward constituency and, significantly, as Minister of Tourism.

Eustace, at a press conference on Monday, July 18, had accused Beache of a “conflict of interest”, questioning how could he, as CEO of the Tourism Authority, effectively supervise the work of a company contracted with the Authority when two officials of that company, Lonsdale, Saatchi and Saatchi, are on the board of a company set up by Beache, named Lonsdale Advertising and Marketing Communication.

Beache replied to the Opposition Leader’s allegations at a press conference of his own on Wednesday of this week, refuting accusations of wrongdoing and rejecting the call for his resignation. While no evidence of corruption has been produced, it is difficult for Beache to escape the “conflict of interest” allegations. He showed extremely poor judgement in not seeing the danger in his double roles, whether or not any transaction had yet been done by his company. Surely, he found himself in a situation which fits the classical definition of a conflict of interest, “a situation which has the potential to undermine the impartiality of a person because of the possibility of a clash between the person’s self-interest and professional or public interest”.

Beache has said that he set up the company to prepare for “life after politics”, but even that is problematic. The best practices of corporate governance stipulate that even years after leaving public office, such officials should not be engaged in personal business with parties to whom they had awarded contracts while in public office. The very fact that Beache, in 2010, changed both the name of the company he had originally registered and its business focus, to coincide with a company with whom the Tourism Authority is doing business, naturally arouses suspicion and charges of conflict of interest. Worse, to have two principals of the contracting company as directors in his own company, even when he remains the CEO of the Tourism Authority is frankly unacceptable. He, and all other public officials, should be like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion.

The whole incident is certainly a wake up call to all public officials and re-emphasizes the urgent need for the enactment of integrity legislation to ensure the highest standards of propriety in public office.