In 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!