A golden opportunity to clean up the House, positions of trust and lobbying
With the coming into force of the Standards in Public Life Act at the end of the month, the country will have reached a crucial juncture. The Act had been languishing somewhere on Parliament’s table for over six years now, six years in which the country was in dire need of a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.
Those were six years lost but there is still plenty to do, and the Commissioner will certainly have a lot on his plate once he or she is appointed. Parliament had approved the Act over a year ago but for some reason it has been doing nothing but gathering dust, most likely because a suitable candidate palatable enough to the two-thirds of Parliament required to appoint the Commissioner had not yet been found.
That person will need to have a backbone of steel if he or she is to perform their duty to the country without fear or favour, and this will certainly be no mean feat.
That persona now seems to have been found after the political parties reached a consensus on Chamber of Advocates President George Hyzler taking the hot seat. To our mind, the man appears to be an ideal candidate.|
He will, however, need to make his mark immediately, and take no prisoners from the outset.
The Act will apply to all Members of Parliament, including the members of Cabinet. Moreover, it also applies to all those hundreds of positions of trust dished out, often as no more than political favours, who many times are found to have been somewhat less than de- serving as far as their comport, and wheelings and dealings, are concerned.
The new Commissioner will also be empowered to examine, and if need be verify, declarations of income and assets or other interest or benefits of those obliged to supply them, and to come down on anyone who fails to declare or makes an incorrect declaration.
The Commissioner will also be tasked with own initiative investigations, or of anyone suspected to have breached ethical codes of conduct.
Over and above that, the new Commissioner will also draw up guidelines and proposals for regulating lobbying activities, which are far more obscure and which have always presented a very clear and present threat to democracy.
According to the legislation, before drawing up guidelines and making proposals, the Commissioner will first need to see which activities are to be considered as lobbying activities.
The remit here is vast considering the amount of lobbying that goes on below the radar. It includes making recommendations on the acceptance of gifts, the misuse of public resources, the misuse of confidential information.
The Commissioner will also need to make recommendations on revolving doors – limitations on the employment or other activities after a person ceases to hold office as a Minister, a Parliamentary Secretary or a Member of Parliament.
As such, the Commissioner will, in so many respects venture into a no man’s land where, quite literally, no one has ventured before.
This is an enormous step for a country in which standards are deliberately and conveniently ignored on a national level, and where those in public life appear to be held to no standards whatsoever. The list is far too long to go into within the limits of these columns so we will not delve into particular cases. They are more than obvious and it will be quite a task for the new Commissioner to merely determine from where to begin.
It is far too often that regular citizens take a page out of the behaviour of those in power, and figures ‘If they can do, so can I’.
This has to stop, and it has to stop from the top down. It is only when those in power shape up their acts and begin being held to account for their behaviour that it will trickle down to the man in the street who finds so many ingenious ways to circumvent laws, rules and regulations.
People need to be led by example, and our leaders need to provide those examples, which are, sadly, very few and far between. In fact, so much of that behaviour has been far from exemplary.
The long awaited coming into force of the Act may, some way down the road, provide for both new and improved standards in public life, and improved standards for the life of the public.
We wish the new Commissioner every success. The country, in so many ways, depends on it.