Oct 22, 2020: With the double whammy of oil prices and Covid-19, this country cannot afford the ongoing corruption in public office.
This was one of the key points made last week at an online panel discussion on ‘The Challenges in Mandating Integrity and Accountability for those Holding Public Office,’ organised by the Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute (CCGI).
Speakers on the panel were: Dr Terrence Farrell, Consultant and former Deputy Central Bank Governor; Professor Gerry Brooks - Chairman, Unit Trust Corporation (Trinidad) and Lara Quentrall-Thomas - Director, Office of the Procurement Regulation and Chairman, Regency Recruitment and Resources Ltd.
Professor Brooks said the country could not tolerate more racket and corruption for both financial and a socioeconomic reasons. He warned: “As we seek to develop a new society, there is an underbelly of discontent. There is a socioeconomic nerve where people are suffering and where we absolutely have to do the right thing and if we have hordes of people who are doing the wrong thing, that will create a host of socioeconomic problems.”
Noting that despite considerable resources being spent on various institutions, including the police, the courts and the Integrity Commission - corruption was continuing, he said: “We have to take a step back and ask why are these institutions not working…What are the road blocks?”
Brooks urged re-engineering of the judicial and legal justice systems and spoke of the need to ensure that the $1 billion allocation to the Ministry of National Security be used more efficiently and effectively across all agencies, including the Police, Forensic Department, the Financial Intelligence Unit and the Anti-Money Laundering Unit.
He also highlighted the need for public sector reform, questioning how public officials could be expected to effectively run a Ministry and build competence, capacity and organisational capability if they had no control over recruitment, promotions or transfers? He added: “We have to have the courage to say, in this post-Covid era, do we need a CPO?”
Quentrall-Thomas pointed to the situation where, during the lockdown, the majority of the public service were sent to work from home but “the majority did no work, but still took home full salaries,” while hundreds of thousands of people in the rest of society were suffering. “That is absolutely outrageous,” she said. “It cannot be allowed to stand in a time when the country is truly suffering.” She called for this issue to be the focus of immediate accountability, disciplinary protocols and performance management.
To improve the Public Service, she added, “We have to do a much better job of screening and recruitment,” including the use of lie detector tests, to determine the ethical and customer service orientation of persons before they set foot in our buildings, ministries, or Boards.
Farrell was scathing about the ineffectiveness of the Integrity in Public Life Act, describing it as “a bad piece of legislation.” The declarations of people’s assets and liabilities are “a complete waste of time,” he said. “They do nothing to advance what the Integrity Commission ought to be doing, which is investigate and prosecute for corruption…All it does is harass people,” he said.
He was also critical of the Financial Intelligence Unit of T&T Act, noting that under it, the FIU had no powers of investigation and handed over all Suspicious Activity Reports (SARS) to the police who themselves were not equipped to investigate these types of sophisticated, white collar crimes.
Farrell said, “When we adopt legislation, we tend to go for the weakest model possible, and the results we are getting reflects that - zilch!” He highlighted the example of the Commission of Enquiry into CLICO/CL Financial, which ended with a comprehensive report handed to the Prime Minister, who handed it to the DPP, and “we have heard nothing about it since and we spent millions of dollars as a country on that.”
In their final statements, the OPR director said the most urgent issue was the Procurement legislation and she called for full proclamation of the Act. She noted that the Board of the OPR has been putting in place all the systems, infrastructure, guidelines, handbooks, and a significant amount of training of officers In anticipation of full proclamation.
Brooks said ,“the society was at a very, very critical point …the feeling on the ground is that things are hard…we have to address this..it requires enlightened leadership and the determination to change and It also requires an enlightened citizenry to start making demands to force this change.”
Farrell said, “I keep saying to people, when we see things a particular way, it is because somebody wants it that way…It is in someone’s interest to have it that way….When we put weak legislation in place. When we set up the Integrity Commission and do not give it power to investigate and prosecute, we do it deliberately.…somebody wants it that way.”
With respect to the Police Service, he noted, “I think our Commissioner of Police is now finding out what he really has to manage. I don’t think the COP knew and understood the extent to which the Service he was now in charge of, was so corrupt. He didn’t know. He now knows.”
He concluded, “We need somebody, a leader, has to step forward and say ‘no more’. And it has to be somebody like the Prime Minister. It has to be led from that level and come down the line.”
What could be done to eliminate corruption in all its forms? Farrell summed up the solution as: Prevent. Pursue. Prosecute. Punish!
The CCGI has made the complete recording of this invaluable panel discussion available to the general public on its website: www.caribbeangovernance.org.
The Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute (“the Institute”) is a membership organisation headquartered in Trinidad & Tobago dedicated to advancing principles of corporate governance across the Caribbean for corporate governance professionals.
For more information please contact CEO Kamla Rampersad de Silva at 221-8707 or by email at email@example.com
Date: Sunday October 25, 2020