Pursuing Integrity in Public Life
These days there is much talk, considerable talk about integrity and corruption,
Politicians, as usual, are the prime targets. “St. Lucia is in a cesspit of
corruption”, Mr. Stephenson King announces from the platform of the United
Workers Party during its recent outing on the Boulevard.
Statements like these should neither go unnoticed nor unchallenged. Unlike the
situation of the Government of which he was part, Mr. King has avenues to
report, test and pursue his allegations. But more of that, later.
ONCE UPON A TIME
There was a time when politicians were untouchable and even seemed invincible,
invoking the fear of anyone who dared question their behaviour as it pertained
to the administration of government and the management of the financial
resources of the state. There was a time too when there was no obligation for
ministers and public officers to declare gifts which they obtained privately, or
on overseas trips. Ask the politicians who were active prior to 1997 what they
did with the many gifts which they received privately or on their overseas
trips? Where are these gifts today?
INTEGRITY LEGISLATION IN ST. LUCIA
Now, all of this has changed. Ever since 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
The Integrity in Public Life Act, No.6 of 2004, calls for the appointment of an
independent Commission which will, among other things,
(a) Receive, examine and retain all declarations filed with it under the Act;
(b) Make such enquiries as it considers necessary in order to verify or
determine the accuracy of the declaration filed under the Act;
(c) Receive and investigate complaints regarding non-compliance with or breach
of the Act.
The Act specifically states that “In the performance of its functions, the
Commission is not subject to the control or direction of any person or
The 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. At present, the Commission is chaired by Archdeacon Randolph Evelyn
of the Anglican Church. Members of the Commission include a seasoned journalist,
a former banker and Castries businessman, an accountant and a lawyer, all the
skills required under the Integrity Commission Act.
The filing of submissions is not simply a ritual of completing forms to be sent
to a clerk in the Civil Service for filing. The members, by reason of their
expertise, are in the position to collectively assess these submissions to
ensure their accuracy and compliance with the provisions of the Act.
So, under the Act, ministers and public officials 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 Integrity in Public Life Act, No. 6 of 2004, also has several new
provisions, one of them being the inclusion of behaviour defined as
“corruption”. This legislation was enacted by this Government in 2004. Let us
look at some examples of corrupt behaviour.
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, the use of official influence to support any scheme or contract
in which the individual has an interest.
The penalties are severe. Any person found guilty of an act of corruption can
face penalties of up to one hundred thousand dollars or fifteen years
imprisonment. In extreme cases the individual can be fined and confined.
There are many who believe that the Act is aimed solely at politicians. That is
not so. 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.
WORK OF COMMISSION
The current Commission has approached its tasks with the highest level of
professionalism and diligence, and has met regularly since its establishment in
1998. Unfortunately, like most of the successful agencies in the Public Service,
their work goes unnoticed, largely due to the absence of a tradition of
aggressive public relations. But this is about to change.
The Commission has finally embarked on a public awareness campaign to explain
its work and the various provisions of the Integrity in Public Life Act. I was
particularly pleased to watch and listen to an interview on NTN on the work of
the Commission. At that interview, two members explained the role, work and the
challenges faced by the Commission. Indeed, I have long urged the Commission to
hold workshops for politicians and public officers to explain the provisions of
the Act. Such a workshop would also allow declarants
to ask questions about provisions of the Act which cause them concern.
THE RECORD OF COMPLIANCE
There appears to be a high level of compliance by parliamentarians, government
ministers and public servants to the provisions of the Act. This does not appear
to be the case with the heads of public corporations and statutory boards. In
its recent information to the public via the media, members of the Commission
thought this situation was unsatisfactory and a greater effort should be made by
these individuals to improve on the level of compliance.
THE ROLE OF THE PUBLIC
Like many other laws in this country, the success of implementation and
enforcement relies on the active participation of members of the public. I want
to urge all members of the public to play their part in ensuring that the
Integrity Commission is effective. The Act allows members of the public to
report acts of corruption. Section 32 of the Act states as follows:
(1) Any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that a person in public
(a) is in breach of a provision of this Act;
(b) Has committed an act of corruption,
may make a complaint in writing to the Commission.
(2) The complaint shall state —
(a) the particulars of the breach or act of corruption;
(b) The particulars, as far as they are known, of the person against whom the
complaint is made;
(c) The nature of the evidence that the complainant proposes to produce in
respect of the complaint.
These provisions are available to anyone and that includes Mr. Stephenson King.
If Mr. King says that St. Lucia is “a cesspit of corruption”, then he should, in
accordance with this section, provide the Commission with the particulars of the
While the Commission encourages public participation, it does not give a license
to members of the public to engage in frivolous and vexatious submissions, on
which there is little shred of evidence. All information is treated in
confidence. Reckless and inflammatory statements can cause irreparable damage to
the reputation of people and their families.
Public scrutiny is a continuous thing, but we all must understand our role is
not to embarrass public officials but to monitor their behaviour to ensure that
it is consistent with the principles of integrity. All public officials are
entitled to due process under the law and to seek appropriate remedies if they
A HIGH PRICE TO PAY
There are, of course, those who say that the Annual Declaration of Income and
Liabilities is too high a price to pay for Public Service. It is equally a high
price to pay when accusations are hurled, without evidence or any basis
whatsoever. If they fear disclosure of their private financial affairs, then
they should not enter into the public arena. Aspiring politicians cannot say
they have not been warned.
Consistent with that view, I believe that all persons who are candidates should
be made to declare to the Commission their assets and liabilities on the same
day that they are nominated for General Elections. In this way, we would get a
clearer indication of what the politicians come with, and what, if any, they
have acquired during their tenure. I intend to pursue this, by ensuring
appropriate changes to our Election Law in due course.
UPHOLDING RIGHT AND WRONG
Ultimately, integrity is about upholding the principles of right and wrong in
our behaviour and that of the people around us. It is about accountability. It
is about honesty. It is too about good governance.
All Saint Lucians should remain vigilant, not only to point out acts which
constitute breaches of integrity in the Public Service and among
parliamentarians but in all areas of public life and in national organizations
involved in business, sport and various aspects of community development.
Until next week, take care and God Bless!