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You can’t shame the shameless; why Integrity Commission is a waste

When constitutionally-independent institutions in the country seem to be collapsing, when holders of the highest offices seem confused about their roles and perplexed about their powers. And when the law publicly proves to be the proverbial ass, then, Trinidad and Tobago, we have a problem. A very serious problem.

Photo: Integrity Commission members (from left) Deonarine Jaggernauth, Rajiv Persad, Dr Zainool Hosein. Angela Young Lai and Pete London. (Courtesy Integrity Commission)
Photo: Integrity Commission members (from left) Deonarine Jaggernauth, Rajiv Persad, Dr Zainool Hosein, Angela Young Lai and Pete London.
(Courtesy Integrity Commission)

Many people may have missed it, but last week the Integrity Commission published the names of more than 1,000 public officials who failed to file their declarations of interest forms, as they are required to under the Integrity in Public Life Act, over the period 2003 to 2014.

Among them is one former prime minister, approximately 25 percent of parliamentarians from all parties, hundreds of regional corporation councillors (among them prominent mayors), commissioners who served on statutory commissions, and a phalanx of State boards’ directors.

(See below article for some offenders).

There were repeat offenders who seem to have never complied but who nevertheless continue to hold high offices to this day.

The Act was proclaimed in 2000, under the Basdeo Panday administration, and the Commission established shortly thereafter. Broadly stated, their provisions and powers were intended to eliminate corruption by having all senior officials who have some control or influence over public funds declare their incomes, assets, etc, and those of their immediate families, every year.

Photo: Former Prime Minister Patrick Manning.
Photo: Former Prime Minister Patrick Manning failed to declare his assets on at least four occasions.

I imagine the reasoning was that if, one year after holding some high office, and in subsequent years, an official’s assets increased inexplicably, the declaration would unravel the mystery. He or she might be supremely lucky, winning the Lotto once or twice a year, especially when the jackpot reaches double digits.

Personally, I believe the Integrity Act and Commission are a waste of time and money: you cannot induce integrity by legislation; a person either has it or he doesn’t.

In the instant case, the Commission has failed to have this huge number of officials file their declarations, and has failed to take any action against them. To underscore its impotence, it has resorted to publishing their names, hoping to “name and shame” them.

But how do you shame people who are shameless?

In what was a case of supreme irony, the Commission took legal action against the architect of the law, Panday, and that came about only because he had filed his declaration in which he had failed to declare a bank account in London.

He was charged in 2002 and the case was eventually dismissed by a magistrate in 2012—because the Commission had failed to follow due process.

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago prime minister Basdeo Panday (right) shares a joke with then Cuba president Fidel Castro during the closing ceremony of a CARIFORUM meeting in 1998. (Copyright AFP 2014/Roberto SCchmidt)
Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago prime minister Basdeo Panday (right) shares a joke with then Cuba president Fidel Castro during the closing ceremony of a CARIFORUM meeting in 1998.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Roberto SCchmidt)

So Panday was punished after he filed his declaration, but hundreds of others who refuse to file theirs are “named and shamed.” You see why I say the law is an ass?

The Commission has the powers to pursue the delinquents via the High Court, and if they still fail to comply, they can be fined heavily, even jailed—once due process is followed.

But nothing further will come out of this, which is why I submit that the Act should be repealed and the Commission disbanded: put them out of their misery.

The other institution that is failing the country is the presidency. His Excellency President Anthony Carmona committed a serious breach of protocol when he hosted Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro during the latter’s official visit to this country.

Because Maduro is executive President of Venezuela—meaning he is both Head of Government and Head of State—he is entitled to meet with both our Head of State (the President) and Head of Government (the Prime Minister).

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley (right) and Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro shake hands during a joint press conference in Port of Spain on May 23, 2016. (Copyright Alva Viarruel/AFP 2016/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley (right) and Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro shake hands during a joint press conference in Port of Spain on May 23, 2016.
(Copyright Alva Viarruel/AFP 2016/Wired868)

But while Maduro is empowered to discuss and negotiate with the PM issues of governance and mutual interest (security, trade, economic cooperation), the visit and talks with our President, who does not have executive powers and must know his limitations, cannot include matters that are the preserve of the Government.

In this instance, President Carmona, live on television, was heard asking Maduro to “do something about those guns coming into our country”, or words to that effect.

Such sensitive matters are discussed privately, and in any event, not by our ceremonial President.

Staying with the President and his opaque permutation of powers, one that has come to the fore is his selection of persons to serve as independent senators. In this case, the President exercises absolute power.

However, because the independents hold the balance of power in the Senate, such persons, besides being intelligent and having experience in general or specific fields that would enhance debate and discussion in the Chamber, must also possess character.

Some of President Carmona’s selections seem to have none of these qualities, and based on what I have read in newspapers, one of them comes across as a common cyber-thug.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago President Anthony Carmona is snapped before a meeting with China President Xi Jingping in Port of Spain on 2 June 2013. (Copyright Frederic Dubray/AFP 2016/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago President Anthony Carmona is snapped before a meeting with China President Xi Jingping in Port of Spain on 2 June 2013.
(Copyright Frederic Dubray/AFP 2016/Wired868)

Surely, the constitutional powers vested in the President in this regard did not envisage him imposing unsavoury characters on the Upper House.

Such scavenging should be left to political parties, not President’s House.

 

Editor’s Note: The Integrity Commission is required to regulate the conduct of “persons exercising public functions” through the receipt of declarations of income, assets and liabilities, and by monitoring compliance with the Code of Conduct presented in Part IV of the Integrity in Public Life Act, 2000. The Commission is responsible for examining the practices and procedures of public bodies in order to facilitate discovery of corrupt practices.

However, the number of persons exercising public functions who refused to open their “income, assets and liabilities” have mushroomed from six persons in 2004 to 309 persons in 2014.

Photo: Former Port of Spain mayor Raymond Tim Kee (left) and current Point Fortin mayor Clyde Paul repeatedly failed to declare their assets to the Integrity Commission. (Courtesy LoopTT)
Photo: Former Port of Spain mayor Raymond Tim Kee (left) and current Point Fortin mayor Clyde Paul repeatedly failed to declare their assets to the Integrity Commission.
(Courtesy LoopTT)

The list includes: former prime minister Patrick Manning, past and present ministers and MPs like Randall Mitchell, Selby Wilson, Stuart Young, Embau Moheni, Vernella Alleyne-Toppin, Herbert Volney, Colin Partap, Jairam Seemungal, Fitzgerald Hinds, Ashworth Jack, Clarence Rambharat, Anthony Garcia, Darryl Smith, Nileung Hypolite, Glen Ramadarsingh, Anil Roberts, Brent Sancho, Lincoln Douglas and Rushton Paray.

Past and present mayors Keron Valentine, Clyde Paul, Gopaul Boodhan, George Hadeed and Raymond Tim Kee; and senators Michael Annisette, Justin Junkere, Archbishop Barbara Burke, Wayne Sturge and Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir.

And prominent former board members like Indrani Rampersad, Ramesh Ramdhan, Barry Bidaisee, George Nicholas III, Israel Khan SC, John Lindsay Gillette, Carla Foderingham, Gerard Pinard, Rubadiri Victor and Hazel Brown.

Click HERE to view the full list.

Photo: Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat explains his failure to file his declarations in 2014.
Photo: Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat explains his failure to file his declarations in 2014.

AboutRaffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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45 comments

  1. A lot of people have worked hard to maintain this current mess as the standard status quo, all for the pursuit of filthy lucre and all other harmful vices so that they can participate in the widening of the rich-poor gap even further.
    GET MONEY OUT OF POLITICS and we may see a change, unfortunately, it seems that there is an overall LACK OF WILL to make that change.

  2. What integrity mission,a bunch of misfits!Bleh!

  3. Integrity Commission a place to draw easy money and just play the ass

  4. The Integrity Commission is usurping the role of the Tax Investigation Unit of the Board Of Inland Revenue…….then we wonder why it will never work.

  5. Only in T&T can this happen. Men playing holier than thou, but breaking the law and no consequences. Maybe the law should be changed to have them removed from their positions within six months of default. If you do not wish to file, no problem, but do not accept a position and break the law because you know there are no consequences.
    No wonder young people do not know right from wrong.

  6. Actually, it might just be Rambharat. All the others were in public service before at some level.

  7. I don’t see the point, if they don’t file,abolish it. The reason they don’t file, because they are a bunch of crooks.

  8. Dr E.Williams side with Panday and kick Raffique Shah because William was afraid of Shah that is how panday became leader of C/F Union

  9. A complete waste of time. Anyone actually being charged now could probably claim discrimination. Smh.

  10. I did not read this article by Raffique Shah because I already agree . You know why ? It is because you don’t have to be an intellectual to know that the Integrity Commission has failed and done so miserably. It is a waste of time and only when reformed and given some teeth, will it prove to be the force it can be.

  11. This agency was set pay old farts and make the population feel like something good was happening .

  12. Convicted? He was released lol

  13. Panday convicted for failing to declare

  14. Sure some of them on the Integrity commission never filed either.

  15. IC have no SHAME…cover-up for the rich…they have NO SHAME…

  16. The problem is the need to declare

  17. What an example of integrity these pillars of the Country set for the youth of the Nation. SHAME!

  18. i agree with his statement “I believe the Integrity Act and Commission are a waste of time and money: you cannot induce integrity by legislation; a person either has it or he doesn’t”.

  19. Like,like,like,like Vernal Damion Cadogan.

  20. I didn’t have to read this yuh know?
    I have been pointing out for years that the Integrity Commission is a limp noodle and Carmona a dishonest imbicile.

    I’m among the few with little appreciation for mud sport, particularly spinning top in mud and quenk wallowing in it!

  21. So they lost the case against Panday because they did not follow due process. Now. Really?! Does this mean that they do not have processes in place or that they do not follow their own procedures? This is so basic that it says a lot about this disfunctional commission.

    The fact that there are so many people who are not filling out the forms means that either again their procedures are not being followed or alternatively, that they are woefully understaffed. If the latter, then either get more staff (more easily said that done since they probably do not get their annual ‘allowance’) or find the priorities and focus on getting those done. Chasing all those unsubmitted forms now is a patent waste of time!

    Any which way you look at this commission, it should be disbanded, the act repealed and replaced and those forms be made redundant. I have seen those forms and, while I would be happy to serve my country, I will not if I have to fill out those forms. WHy don’t they use the BIR annual returns? BIR has the teeth to ensure that the annual forms are received. If these forms are shown to exclude any income because the lifestly does not fit the income shown, then the BIR can take them to court under the POCA and deal with them there. The BIR could probably spot these inconsistencies much better than a clerk or officer in the IC who reviews the forms submitted (which could be totally incorrect!).

    We need people/organisations who work both smart and hard!

  22. The new ones didn’t realise they had to start from the previous year

    • Dunno. They missed the deadline regardless. But they can argue they were only in from mid-September and hopefully will now comply.
      This does not apply to Stuart Young and Randall Mitchell who failed to declare assets for two years.

  23. One cannot legislate integrity.. Either you have it or you don’t..#bosscommentShah..
    ..the information required can be cumbersome and tedious, private details/big bank accounts are subject to public scrutiny..
    ..whatever the reason(s) for failure to declare assets/liabilities over so many years, who is going to take action?
    Nadie..Nada, Ninguno …no más..

  24. I think Carmona knows what he’s doing when it comes to benefitting from his office, but when it comes to protocol he’s the quintessential country bookie. This wasn’t his first gaffe either, who remembers him allowing Kamla to escort the Chinese premier to inspect the honor guard as Lord Pussyfoot was relegated to her majesty’s umbrella bearer?

    • I saw somewhere that he does not have, and apparently does not want, a protocol officer. Neither he nor the last government seem ed not to understand the importance of the protocol officer and the role this officer plays in the function of both the President and the government. I hope the present government has one!

    • He’s probadly embarrassed for someone to discover how uncouth he is. In fact I doubt if he knows which is the soup spoon and the salad fork.

    • Vernal Damion Cadogan But that would be all the more reason to have a protocol officer,…protocol officers are supposed to be there to guide …unless he really does not give two hoots for protocol…

  25. Carmona is the norm rather than the exception in public service. Sadly.

  26. LOL….not one thing is wrong with Powers….he knows fully well what he’s doing

    • The appointments etc and the housing allowance thing… I’d agree with you eh…
      But flippantly telling a visiting head of state (who under real pressure in his country) in a public setting no less, to do something about the guns coming from your country? When you don’t even have anything to do with policy setting so can’t even enter into meaningful talks on the issue? Lol.
      Something loose eh… And I’d like it tightened. Please. ASAP. STAT. Whatever. Lol.

  27. Can we get a rigorous medical evaluation (physical, emotional, mental) done on President Carmona?