Thursday, June 6, 2013


I don't think that there are many people who will disagree with the statement that the Integrity Commission ('IC') over the years has really not lived up to the promise of what it was set up to do, i.e., prevent corruption. And before people like Basdeo Panday stand up and say "if you have evidence of corruption take it to the police" let me state quite clearly that I have no evidence of anybody, either in past or present regimes, being corrupt. But there have been too many occasions when I have felt that the whole thing smells to high heaven. And I can (like too many others) refer to a whole lot of matters that are extremely fishy, too say the least!

But despite having an Integrity Commission that was supposed to make it harder for persons in public life to take bribes, the truth is that from it's inception that august Commission has been singularly ineffective and ineffectual. This is partly, I suppose, because of a certain incompetence, but I suspect that even with the  most competent of Commissioners in place that the IC would still be ineffective.

The reason that I say this is because the IC is supposed to scrutinise almost every single person in public life ranging from Prime Ministers at the high end to "lowly" councillors at the other end. In between there are people who will never be approached to take a bribe, e.g., opposition senators. (Who would want to bribe an opposition senator, for crying out loud?! He has absolutely no power or influence over the administration of the public purse.) In other words, the IC spends an inordinate amount of time pouring over all of the forms that persons in public life must submit on an annual basis. (Once when I was an opposition senator I got quite cross with the IC who asked me a bunch of what I considered to be extremely stupid questions and which, on principle, I refused to answer. The whole thing was eventually settled when I met with the then IC Chairman John Martin who apologised and we came to a compromise that allowed the IC to save some face. But this little episode took six months and many letters passing back and forth. A total waste of everyone's time!)

And this is my point. I have a friend who is a councillor. He does not belong to the Party that controls his council. The IC called him in earlier this year to question him as to why his wife owned his company (the financial information of which he had provided although not legally obliged to do so)! My friend eventually walked out and contacted me for advice. There was nothing wrong with his return, the person in the IC just couldn't understand why he was not a shareholder in his own company ... which incidentally does no business at all with any government or state enterprise! Stupidity par excellence!!

In other words, there is quite clearly a good deal of incompetence in the IC. But there is also an inadvertant swamping of the IC with a whole lot of unnecessary work in pouring over the returns of persons who clearly aren't in the "please bribe me business".

So, why don't we revamp the IC? And in doing so, why don't we take a commonsense approach? After all, who is more guilty: the person taking the bribe (the "bribee") or the person giving the bribe (the "bribor")? Answer: BOTH are equally guilty! So, why don't we fix the legislation? We could keep the 'net' of persons that have to file declarations except that we wouldn't make them file declarations unless the IC for any reason asks them to. That would cut out a lot of unnecessary work. Then, we should make all persons, firms or corporations (from banks to contractors and everybody inbetween) that do business with the government or any state enterprise subject to the jurisdiction of the IC. In other words, if a situation arose such as, for example,  the present one where some $6.4 million was spent to retrieve a $2 million firetruck (an act that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and stinks to high heaven) then the IC could (and should) of it's own volition go into the books, records and bank accounts of the contractor. If, for example, those records showed a suspiciously large payment, say,  to Tief Man, Grabbit & Run Cayman Islands Limited, then the IC could follow that up to see who the Tief Man company belonged to.  It wouldn't be too difficult after that to nab the corrupt politician. Follow the money and you eventually catch the thief!

What do you think? Makes sense, doesn't it? But then, it only makes sense if the politicians really want to make it more difficult to steal. The question really is: do we want to make it more difficult for the crooks, or do we like it so?

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Montano,
    You realise that if the powers that be did what you are suggesting that the Integrity Commission could even investigate money laundering! That would upset a LOT of people including the banks who insist that there is no money laundering in T&T!!