June 19, 2009
Integrity legislation must have teeth

It is all well and good to enact integrity legislation and even go as far as to enshrine the Integrity Commission into the constitution, but it will be a waste of time if there isn’t a willingness to enforce the provisions of the legislation.{{more}}

Chapter Ten of the proposed new constitution on which Vincentians will vote in November speaks of the institution of an Integrity Commission.

This commission will be charged with the duties of receiving declarations in writing of the assets, liabilities and income of members of the National Assembly (House of Assembly) and other offices prescribed by the legislation.

The concept of integrity legislation and the elevation of the Integrity Commission to the level of the constitution suggest that local lawmakers are serious about accountability and stamping out corruption.

This was also the feeling in St Lucia in 2004, when that country passed integrity legislation and appointed its Integrity Commission, but according to two former commissioners, the intent and the reality couldn’t be further from each other.

Archdeacon Randolph Evelyn served as the Chairman of St Lucia’s Integrity Commission up to late last year, and journalist David Vitalis also served from the Commission’s inception to 2008.

Vitalis told SEARCHLIGHT that his time on the Commission gave him a lesson in the system of governance.

Vitales said that his experience showed that unless the powers that be are willing to enforce the laws, it doesn’t make sense.

“If the government is not really serious about the matter, it is a waste of time, money and paper,” Archdeacon Evelyn simply stated.

Vitales said that while he was on the commission, he found that there were some years that nearly half of the persons required to by the integrity legislation failed to file their reports, yet no one was disciplined when the Commission followed the guidelines and reported those persons to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Vitalis said that as the years went by and delinquent persons were not disciplined, more and more persons went into delinquency.

“It must have teeth,” said Archdeacon Evelyn, who told SEARCHLIGHT that integrity legislation cannot be a public relations stunt, just to say that the country has one.

Vitalis noted additionally that he found that some people felt that the reports they were required to submit were too intrusive, and some politicians expressed concern about the confidentiality of the Commission, not wanting sensitive information about their worth being a topic of gossip.

On Tuesday, February 24th, 2009, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves supported a bill brought to House of Assembly by Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace to implement Integrity Legislation here.

Eustace then said that the legislation was needed to fight the perception that parliamentarians are corrupt.

“We cannot allow the perception of corruption, such a broad-bush perception to continue,” he said.

The draft integrity bill, which is still to be fine-tuned and debated in the House, will see parliamentarians declaring their assets, liabilities and income from every source to the Integrity Commission within three months of their election or appointment.

Fresh submissions will be made by December 31st every year, and illegal or suspicious findings are to be reported to the DPP.

If persons fail to make their submissions, they will be reported to the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader.

However if the St Lucian lesson is anything to go by, it will seem that the legislation, and the inclusion of the Commission in the Constitution are all good steps, but the key will be what happens when the parliamentarians and senior public servants covered under the law transgress.

Will a bite follow the bark of the law?