The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By David R. Fran­cis

I n the wake of the lat­est bud­get de­bates, af­ter lis­ten­ing to the ex­changes from those who have the priv­i­lege of rep­re­sent­ing the rest of us in par­lia­ment, many Saint Lu­cians find them­selves ask­ing: “Who is polic­ing our politi­cians?” Al­le­ga­tions of mis­man­age­ment of govern­ment funds are nor­mal in ev­ery so­ci­ety; there will al­ways be some who think their tax dol­lars aren’t be­ing ad­e­quately ac­counted for and that their rep­re­sen­ta­tives are be­ing less than forth­com­ing. The av­er­age per­son does not know mea­sures are in place to en­sure ac­count­abil­ity and in­tegrity from those in power. The ef­fect of this is that the cit­i­zens are left feel­ing pow­er­less in the face of cor­rup­tion.

The In­tegrity in Pub­lic Life Act, passed in 2002, was de­signed to en­sure the ac­count­abil­ity and in­tegrity of pub­lic ser­vants. “Per­sons in pub­lic life” in­cludes: mem­bers of the Se­nate and House of As­sem­bly; govern­ment min­is­ters; per­ma­nent sec­re­taries and deputy per­ma­nent sec­re­taries; tech­ni­cal of­fi­cers; the Speaker of the House; Pres­i­dent of the Se­nate; the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions.

The law cre­ates a com­mis­sion which is man­dated to mon­i­tor per­sons in pub­lic life, in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion and malfea­sance and make rec­om­men­da­tions to the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions for the pros­e­cu­tion of those sus­pected to be in con­tra­ven­tion of the Act.

The law also man­dates that “per­sons in pub­lic life” give in­for­ma­tion on their fi­nan­cial af­fairs on an an­nual ba­sis. Such per­sons and their spouses are re­quired to make a dec­la­ra­tion of their fi­nan­cial af­fairs to the com­mis­sion within three months of their ap­point­ment and within one month of the end of each cal­en­dar year. The dec­la­ra­tion must con­tain in­for­ma­tion on in­come, as­sets and li­a­bil­i­ties.

Once a dec­la­ra­tion is re­ceived by the Com­mis­sion the law re­quires that a no­tice be pub­lished in the Gazette to in­form the pub­lic that the per­son is in com­pli­ance with the law. A per­son in pub­lic life who fails to pro­vide a dec­la­ra­tion of as­sets in ac­cor­dance with law may be re­ferred to the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions.

The In­tegrity in Pub­lic Life Act deals also with the is­sue of cor­rup­tion, which in its broad sense con­cerns the ac­qui­si­tion of as­sets dis­pro­por­tion­ate to a per­son’s le­git­i­mate in­come while work­ing with the govern­ment. The Act de­fines cor­rup­tion very ex­pan­sively and in­cludes: so­lic­it­ing money for the per­for­mance of his/her pub­lic func­tion; per­form­ing any pub­lic func­tion with the goal of ob­tain­ing an il­licit ben­e­fit; fraud­u­lent use or con­ceal­ment of prop­erty which is de­rived from il­licit means; giv­ing money to other pub­lic ser­vants for the im­proper per­for­mance of their duty; im­proper use of his/ her ben­e­fits for the ben­e­fit of a third party; ob­tain­ing any gift while act­ing for or on be­half of the govern­ment; im­proper use of his/her po­si­tion to fur­ther any pri­vate scheme or con­tract; trans­fer­ring or con­vert­ing prop­erty be­long­ing to the govern­ment for his/her pri­vate use and re­ceiv­ing any gift(s) of a cer­tain class while per­form­ing a pub­lic func­tion.

The Com­mis­sion, through its ac­coun­tant, can in­ves­ti­gate the dec­la­ra­tions and de­ter­mine whether in­di­vid­u­als in pub­lic life are re­ceiv­ing money from un­de­clared sources. These in­ves­ti­ga­tions are key to en­sur­ing ac­count­abil­ity.

Any gift re­ceived by a per­son in pub­lic of­fice that is val­ued in ex­cess of $500 must also be re­ported to the In­tegrity Com­mis­sion.

The Act pro­vides that per­sons who have in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing in­di­vid­u­als in pub­lic life who may be en­gag­ing in cor­rupt ac­tiv­i­ties can make a re­port to the Com­mis­sion. The per­son mak­ing the re­port of cor­rup­tion to the com­mis­sion is im­mune from any reprisal from the per­son be­ing in­ves­ti­gated; whis­tle-blow­ers are en­cour­aged and pro­tected by the law. The Com­mis­sion has the power to in­ves­ti­gate the per­son in pub­lic life and may call upon wit­nesses to give ev­i­dence.

An in­di­vid­ual found guilty of con­tra­ven­ing the In­tegrity in Pub­lic Life Act may face a penalty of up to $500,000 or ten years in prison on a first of­fence heard be­fore the High Court, and on a sub­se­quent con­vic­tion be­fore the same Court such per­son faces a penalty of up to $1,000,000 and up to fif­teen years im­pris­on­ment.

So, to the ques­tion “Who is polic­ing the politi­cians?” We are. Cit­i­zens are un­der a duty to re­port any sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­i­ties of pub­lic ser­vants to the Com­mis­sion. That is the only way we can en­sure our tax dol­lars are be­ing spent in the right way and for the right rea­sons. If you know that a cer­tain pub­lic ser­vant has been steal­ing from the govern­ment, you are duty-bound to re­port this to the Com­mis­sion - hope­fully not a mere tooth­less tiger. But that’s for an­other ar­ti­cle.

The en­force­ment of the In­tegrity in Pub­lic Life Act is the only way to pro­tect govern­ment cof­fers. If the peo­ple have in­for­ma­tion they should in­form the Com­mis­sion. If the Com­mis­sion it­self is re­ceiv­ing this in­for­ma­tion from the pub­lic and not act­ing, the mat­ter should be brought to the at­ten­tion of the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions. Cor­rup­tion in of­fice is a ter­ri­ble crime against a peo­ple as de­prived as we are. The In­tegrity Com­mis­sion can­not ex­ist as a watch­dog with rub­ber teeth or no teeth at all!

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