Full Disclosure
October 14, 2005

Integrity in public life

The word INTEGRITY suggests a strong sense of morality, up-rightness and honesty, which should be the hallmark of us all as workers, be it within the Public or Private sector. However, History has recorded countless instances when many have fallen way short of this mark, with St. Vincent and the Grenadines being no virgin to such bad-faith. {{more}}

The issue of integrity in Public life must be carefully considered, and accordingly addressed with a great sense of urgency if our objective of building a nation an ideally functioning Public Sector and negligible elements of corruption is to be ensured.

Although this issue is not one which solely arises in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it can be safely suggested that the absence of integrity legislation, taking into consideration our local circumstances, would be far more detrimental to our economy, politics and society as a developing state than those countries which are far more developed. It is in this regard that one must welcome the initiative taken by our Legislators to bring to the fore the Integrity In Public Life Bill 2005.

One question which lingers though is why such an important piece of legislation needed to monitor the many “don’ts and should nots” of those holding High Public Offices was placed on the back burner since our Independence in 1979, and why have we allowed our esteemed Public Offices to be left unguarded to the ill-willed for so long?

The policy which informs the Bill refers to the need for the establishment of a supervisory body to ensure integrity in Public Life, and the necessity to monitor the accruement of assets and liabilities, income and interests in relation to property and other matters of that nature.

Firstly, the independence of any commission selected to monitor INTEGRITY has to be clearly established so as to ensure that the outlined objective is achieved, hence, the listing of a chartered or certified accountant, and four persons to be selected from a group which includes members of the Clergy, Attorneys of at least seven years standing, retired magistrates and retired judges of the Court of Appeal and the High Court appointed by the Governor-General after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, appears from all angles to be appropriate for such an undertaking.

Further, section 22. (1) makes for interesting reading in its discussion of gifts received by persons in Public Life, which states: “Every person in public life who receives a gift while acting in his capacity as a public official exercising a public function worth more than one thousands dollars, shall make a report of that fact to the Com-mission stating the name and address of the donor and the description and approximate value of the gift”. It may be understood that by placing the value of the gifts to be declared as low as $1,000 shows that the section is so structured to ensure minimum opportunities for those attempting to escape the system.

It is a fact that the Commission has an intensive investigative role which will require a great degree of expertise in order to execute its duties effectively. This is one of the major challenges which must be anticipated, which in turn accumulates with it a corresponding financial cost factor which must also be considered.

There is no doubt as to the importance of this piece of proposed legislation. It is time enough that all holders of public offices be held seriously accountable for their actions, and punished accordingly. However, at the end of the day, all our efforts would be in vain if the common man walking in the streets of Kingstown cannot appreciate that Justice is seen to be done.