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A Push for Political Ethics in Trinidad & Tobago

However you want to define it – principles, a moral code, character – ethics boils down to doing the right thing. With Trinidad and Tobago falling to the number 80 ranking in Transparency International‘s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, a few local bloggers have been discussing the issue of integrity.

The Eternal Pantomime started the ball rolling by providing some legal context:

The Integrity in Public Life Act will turn 13 in November of this year. Most of us view the Act and the Integrity Commission as useless.

The opening sentences of the Act states that the Commission’s purpose is to provide “for public disclosure, to regulate the conduct of persons exercising public functions; to preserve and promote the integrity of public officials and institutions…” What many of us don’t know is that the Integrity Commission has real teeth. Their duties don’t just stop at publishing a list of miscreants and submitting a report to the Senate every year. Their power reaches far beyond financial disclosure.

The folks over at the Integrity Commission can scrutinise any person in public life or exercising public functions. This includes the Prime Minister, the AG, Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, members of state boards, and persons working in the Public Service, Judicial and Legal Service, Police Service, Teaching service, Statutory Authorities’ Service Commission, Diplomatic Service and Advisers to the Government.

If you re-read that list slowly and digest its importance you will realise that the Integrity Commission has oversight of the activities of so many sectors of our country that if the Commission was properly staffed and working efficiently it should, theoretically, be able to root out a lot of the corruption and inefficiency prevalent in our society.

She then honed in on the relevance of the Act to Jack Warner, the recently-resigned Minister of National Security and former Vice President of FIFA who has been plagued with allegations of misconduct in public life:

Mr Warner has been serving in public life since November 5th, 2007. His activities as a member of the Caribbean Football Union, Concacaf and FIFA are public knowledge. Since becoming a member of government in 2010 there have been allegations and speculations hovering over Warner. We have an Integrity Commission in Trinidad and Tobago that is at least a decade old. Why did it take a report from Concacaf to unearth information that Warner has been less than forthcoming about his business interests and financial transactions dating back from 2006?

Back in November 2012 there was a local newspaper report indicating Warner was the subject of a probe by the IC. When questioned about the nature of the probe, Martin Farrell, the Registrar of the IC, responded saying: ‘The Integrity Commission is not in a position to comment on your request. As you will appreciate, having regard to the nature of its mandate under the Integrity in Public Life Act, the Commission is required to treat with all matters with the utmost confidentiality.’

Fast forward now to April, 2013, in the aftermath of the report from Concacaf’s Integrity Committee and there is still a deafening silence from the various bodies and authorities here. The last we heard from the DPP on the matter of Warner, the police had been instructed to look into whether Warner had breached Customs and Excise laws. The probe by the AG into Warner seems to have stalled. And the Integrity Commission remains as enigmatic as ever. Saying little, but alluding to an ongoing probe that has thus far yielded little satisfaction to the public.

Plain Talk, tongue firmly in cheek, added:

The acceptable definition of ethics is – ‘moral principles that governs a person's behavior.’ The Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute…has made recommendation that Government should establish an ethical protocol for members of the Cabinet which includes an agreement that any Cabinet member facing serious allegations must step down, which was clearly a recommendation made without much understanding of the nature and culture of our local politics and politicians as they would have understood that a rule like this could ruin a government and empty the Cabinet overnight.

But The Eternal Pantomime wanted answers:

After reading the Concacaf Report you have to ask yourself what exactly is the problem with us here that we can have so many institutions and systems in place, and have them constantly fail us. Why is investigating Warner and making him answerable to the public so difficult? Why does an Integrity Commission, enacted with so much power on paper, often seem so weak? When exactly are these bodies responsible for public oversight actually going to start earning their keep? Or are we going to have to launch a probe not just into Warner, but into the integrity of our Commissions?

aka_lol couldn't provide answers, but referring to Jack Warner's bid to be re-elected as the candidate for the now vacant Chaguanas West seat (from which he voluntarily resigned), the blogger did take a shot at predicting more of the same:

The Prime Mister, unable to ignore credible evidence for a change, finally expressed shock and horror which angered or embarrassed Jack into resigning. Nobody knows. This report has probably worked in his favor as now no one can say they think Jack Warner was a dishonest man.

From the full page ads and reports reaching this blog, Mr. Warner, like the UNC [the United National Congress, the political party that comprises the majority of the ruling People's Partnership government] executives, will go down fighting. Jack has popularity among the poor and romantic as his weapon, and the UNC, it seems, has the ability to victimize anyone who is observed to be part of Jack’s motorcade and support. Both sides are wielding big sticks against each other with the end result favoring Jack over the pretentious but powerful. Jack’s secret weapon is well known and that is to go as an independent candidate thus leaving the seat open for the Opposition to grab. Let the games begin.

The thumbnail image used in this post, “Ethics and Morals: Timeless and Universal?” is by stephenccwu, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license. Visit stephenccwu's flickr photostream.

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