Constitutional Reform Commission Report.
THE Constitutional Reform Commission has recommended that public officials who fail to comply with the provisions of the Integrity in Public Life Act should be met with sanctions. It also suggests that many more public officials should be made to make declarations to the Integrity Commission.
Today we continue serializing the Commission’s report with another section from Chapter 9.
The matter of proper standards in public life by politicians and public officers in Saint Lucia has been the subject of comment at political meetings, at private parties, debates in Parliament, on radio and television talk shows and in calypsos. It has also been the subject of comment in the course of Commissions of Inquiry and judicial pronouncements. Indeed, it was a concern raised at several of the outreach sessions convened by this Commission. All this implies that the issue of good governance and the elimination of corruption in public life should be given adequate attention in constitutional reform.
The Commission notes that, with the enactment of integrity legislation, provisions have been put in place to ensure checks on the assets and liabilities of politicians, senior public servants and persons managing statutory corporations. In that regard the Integrity in Public Life Act, 75calls for the appointment of an independent Commission, the functions of which are to:
(a) “receive, examine and retain all declarations filed with it under this Act;
(b) make such enquiries as it considers necessary in order to verify or determine the
accuracy of the declaration filed under this Act;
(c) receive and investigate complaints regarding non-compliance with or breach of
this Act; and
(d) perform such other functions it is required by this Act to perform.”
Parliament has determined that the Integrity Commission shall be an independent statutory authority in the exercise of its functions. Under the Act, the Commission is not subject to the control or direction of any person or authority. This provision, in its terms, vests the Integrity Commission with the similar autonomy as is afforded independent authorities under the Constitution. These include the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Director of Audit and the constitutionally mandated Commissions. Once appointed, members of the Integrity Commission have security of tenure for three years and can only be removed from office by the Governor General for inability to discharge the functions of their offices or for misbehaviour and only on the recommendation of an independent high level tribunal, after proper inquiry. However, this does not mean that the Commission can do whatever it likes as it is subject to the jurisdiction of the Courts.
By being in receipt of public moneys from the Consolidated Fund under Section 39 of the Act, the management of the funds of the Integrity Commission falls within the ambit of the Finance (Administration) Act and related regulations. The accounts of the Commission are to be audited by the Director of Audit, and the Commission is required to submit an annual report of its activities for tabling in the House of Assembly.
The Integrity Commission is appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister who shall consult with the Leader of the Opposition before providing this advice. The Integrity Commission shall have at least a chairperson and not less than two nor more than four other members, of which one must be a chartered or certified accountant and one must be an attorney-at-law. The members, by reason of their expertise, are expected to be capable of collectively assessing submissions to ensure their accuracy and compliance with the provisions of the Act.
The Act includes provisions for behaviour defined as “corruption”. According to the Act, a person in public life commits an act of corruption if:
(a) “he or she solicits or accepts, whether directly or indirectly, any article or money or other benefit, being a gift, favour, promise or advantage for himself or herself or another person for doing any act or omitting to do any act in the performance of his or her official functions or causing any other person to do so or omit to do anything;
(b) he or she in the performance of his or her public functions does any act or omits to do any act for the purpose of obtaining any illicit benefit for himself or herself or any other person;
(c) he or she fraudulently uses or conceals any property or other benefit derived from any such act or omission to act under paragraph (a) or (b);
(d) he or she offers or grants, directly or indirectly, to a public servant any article, money or other benefit being a gift, favour, promise or advantage to the public servant or another person, for doing any act or omitting to do any act in the performance of the public servant’s public functions;”
There are several other provisions in the Act which speak to the issue of corruption. These include improper use of Government property for the benefit of an individual and the use of official influence to support any scheme or contract in which the individual has an interest. The penalties are severe and, in extreme cases, individuals can be fined and confined.
It must be noted that the Act is not aimed solely at politicians. The provisions which define corruption are also aimed at citizens, companies and others who attempt to bribe decision makers in Government to obtain decisions in their favour.
As with many other laws in this country, the success of implementation and enforcement relies on the active participation of members of the public. Accordingly, the Act allows members of the public to report acts of corruption.
In recent times, the Integrity Commission has had to report several instances of non-compliance by parliamentarians, Government Ministers, senior public servants and heads of public corporations and statutory boards. As currently exists, the Integrity Commission can only report breaches to the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney General for further action. The Commission regards this as unsatisfactory and is of the view that the Integrity Commission needs to be empowered to deal with defaulters more directly.
According to a former Chair of the Integrity Commission, “Increasingly fewer and fewer people comply as delinquents are not prosecuted as provided by the law. In ten years not one person has been called to account. There is an urgent need for enforcement as well as strengthening the law in this regard. Further, persons whether from within the Public Service or otherwise before being appointed to a post that would make them a Person in Public Life, should be informed by the PSC or the relevant ministry, of their obligation to file a declaration in accordance with the Act on behalf of themselves and their spouse.
At the moment, there is a contemptuous disregard for the Integrity in Public Life Act and by extension the Commission; this should be addressed as a matter of urgency. He also thought that the dragnet of the Commission should be wider.”76 The Parliament of Saint Lucia, by enacting integrity legislation, deemed it necessary to subject a class of persons77 to a special regime of disclosure of their financial affairs. This was done for the express purpose of establishing probity, integrity and accountability in public life in Saint Lucia.
Hence, under the Act, they are required to disclose their income, how much they owe and to whom, their investments if any, their properties and even the life insurances that they carry. The Commission recognises the important role of the Integrity Commission and considered some other key positions deserving of such scrutiny. Additionally, the Commission is of the view that defaulters should face sanctions for non-compliance.
The Commission received a submission that the Prime Minister should not be the only person involved in the appointment of the Integrity Commission. The Minority Leader should also be involved. The President should consult both the Prime Minister and Minority Leader before making appointments to the Integrity Commission. Commissioners were concerned with non-compliance with the provisions of the Integrity in Public Life Act. Therefore, the Commission strongly suggests that such non-compliance should be met with sanctions for the offending parties. Further, the Commission also agreed that all members of Parliament and the Cabinet should make a declaration to the Commission within 30 days of assuming office.
The list of persons in public life who ought to be required to make declarations to the Commission should be expanded to include the Chief Engineer as well as other key functionaries below the rank of Comptroller of Customs and Excise, Comptroller of Inland Revenue and the proposed Contractor-General. The list of public bodies falling within the purview of the Act should be extended to include any company or corporate body, in which the Government or an agency of Government holds fifty-one per cent or more of the shares.
With respect to the Integrity Commission, the Commission recommends the following:
(132) The President should consult both the Prime Minister and the Minority Leader before making appointments.
(133) Non-compliance with the provisions of the Integrity in Public Life Act should be met with sanctions for the offending parties.
(134) All members of Parliament and the Cabinet should make a declaration to the Commission within thirty (30) days of assuming office.
(135) The list of persons in public life who ought to be required to make declarations to the Integrity Commission should be expanded to include the proposed Contractor-General, Chief Engineer as well as certain other functionaries below the rank of Comptroller of Customs and Excise and Comptroller of Inland Revenue.
(136) The list of public bodies falling within the purview of the Integrity in Public Life Act should be extended to include any company, in which the Government or an agency of Government holds fifty-one per centum or more shares.