February 27, 2009
Eustace Integrity Motion gets thumbs up

Persons hoping to serve this country in Parliament and in some critical positions in the state administration will soon have to meet the guidelines stipulated by Integrity Legislation.{{more}}

In an historic moment in Parliament on Tuesday, February 24th, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves seconded a motion raised by Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, bringing the motion on Integrity Legislation to the floor.

On the third meeting of Parliament each year, persons on the Opposition benches and government Senators (Private members) are allowed to bring motions to the floor. However, these motions cannot be debated after 5 p.m.

The historic moment nearly didn’t take place. however, a short lunch time meeting between Dr Gonsalves and Eustace, during which some changes were made to the wording of the motion to address some concerns Dr Gonsalves had, saved the day.

When he raised the motion, Eustace said that the legislation was crucial to help address a “growing” perception in the public that politicians are corrupt.

“There is a perception out there. for some reason people always feel people in parliament are corrupt,” Eustace said.

Eustace told the house that he found it difficult to deal with comments made against parliamentarians and some in public office and said that he believes that integrity legislation laws will help to improve this perception.

“We cannot allow that perception of corruption, such a broad-brush perception to continue,” Eustace said.

During his address, Dr Gonsalves said that while integrity legislation is desirable, it is not that there aren’t laws governing the conduct of parliamentarians already existing.

Dr Gonsalves said that the existing criminal code applies to every citizen, and official corruption is also catered for. He also noted the great work that is being done and the scope of the authority of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).

“In addition to the question of the FIU addressing money laundering and white collar crimes, the FIU is the entity to which banks, financial institutions, credit unions, entities which sell motor vehicles, traders of one kind or another, money services providers…if there is a suspicious report, that suspicious report has to be made under the existing laws to the FIU,” he explained.

He also questioned Eustace’s claim that the perception of corruption by parliamentarians is growing, saying that he believes that the “vast majority of people are satisfied” that the politicians are not corrupt.

Meanwhile, Eustace used the opportunity to highlight some aspects of a draft Integrity bill that he submitted.

That draft includes the establishment of a Commission to oversee the execution of the legislation. It is recommended that this commission include the Director of Audit and four other persons to be appointed by the Governor General from among persons who could include retired judges, persons who have served as Director of Finance, Comptroller of Inland Revenue or in the position of Director of Audit.

Parliamentarians will declare their assets, liabilities and income from every source to this commission within three months of their election. They will then make a fresh submission by December 31 every year, while they serve in parliament.

Eustace said that Commission must also have the power to report any illegal or suspicious findings to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

If a person fails to make the mandatory declaration, they should be reported to the parliamentary leaders, namely the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader.

Persons on the staff of the Commission are also going to be held to the strictest of confidence, and if they leak any of the information declared to the Commission, they can be fined or jailed for any unauthorized breach.

Dr Gonsalves, however, raised questions about the demands of such legislation, saying that it could create a

difficulty in attracting persons to public office, who may find it difficult to submit themselves to that.

He said that this is evident in Trinidad and Tobago.

“The government is finding it very difficult, the country, the society is finding it very difficult (In Trinidad) to get persons of quality who are prepared to subject themselves to the most stringent forms of reportage,” he said.

He said that this concern will not only be for potential parliamentarians but persons who are going to serve as chairpersons on statutory bodies, and permanent secretaries.

Dr Gonsalves said that the legislation has to be fashioned in such a way that while the goals of the legislation are met, it doesn’t encumber work.

A redraft of the legislation to include aspects of the New Democratic Party draft and a previous draft that was done by the government that never came to the floor will now be done.

It will then be subjected to public discussions, the Parliamentary Select Committee, before coming to the House to be debated and be voted into law.

The last time the government and opposition moved hand in hand on anything like this was for the process of constitutional reform, and that unity didn’t last very long.

So what will become of this marriage for integrity legislation?