24 Sept 2008

From the pen of Keith Rowley

This is important, I think, hence my publication here on this blog, as well as my new site.

If there existed any doubt that there were very serious issues of governance and institutional weakness which were actively impeding our development then the recent seminar hosted by the Integrity Commission should put that to rest. The fact that this inaugural event was addressed by the President is all the more remarkable, especially in light of some of the observations which he made to the gathering.

One must remember that it was only a few months ago that I had been forced, at great personal expense, to approach the High Court for protection from the Integrity Commission which, in contravention of its own Act and in flagrant violation of the Constitution, sought to have me falsely prosecuted without giving me an opportunity to respond to allegations which the Commission had formulated, on the basis of malicious gossip.

When the High Court ordered the Commission to observe the law and afford me the opportunity to see and respond to any and all allegations in any enquiry, the Commission eventually and reluctantly concluded that "there was no basis" for its actions.

In the face of this scandalous development there were loud and sustained calls for those responsible at the Integrity Commission to do the right thing and resign. The response from the commissioners was to ignore "ethics and integrity" and embark on a PR campaign to burnish their tarnished image. There were those who appealed to the President to fire the guilty parties. All of this was ignored and it was business as usual.

It should be noted that among those who oversaw this travesty were two former High Court judges, the former chairman and the current chairman. These are the same people who, at great expense to the taxpayers, traipsed down to the Hyatt Hotel last Wednesday to talk down to the rest of us in a seminar about "Integrity, Ethics and Leadership".

It is reported that the President said that integrity and ethics were either "part of the fabric of our being, guiding everything we do, or they are not." I was forced to wonder whether the organisers of the forum were listening and if they were, whether they resolved to take his advice. No such luck!

I did not have to wait long for the answer to my concern because soon after, in another report, the press asked Gordon Deane, the person in charge of the Integrity Commission up to recently, to reflect on his tenure. To my total shock and abject horror he replied saying, "I had fun." Yes, he had fun at the expense of my good name.

Up to that point I never knew that an important body such as the Integrity Commission, created by the Constitution, with the potential to do untold damage to innocent persons if proper procedures were not followed and charged with enforcing ethical standards, was to be used to provide "fun".

This is in a situation where in the face of written law and paid advice from eminent Senior Counsel, this chairman preferred the path of causing baseless allegations to be formulated against me, a Minister of Government and a representative of the people and his Commission facilitated the transmission of a secret report to the DPP, with a view to having me prosecuted.

This was the source of so much "fun" that as far back as June 2006, certain high level personnel in the Government, of which I was a part, knew and were advising others that I was history. In September 2006, during the search for candidates for the General Elections, there were privileged persons who could have confidently approached persons to replace me in Diego Martin West on the grounds that my arrest was imminent.

To add insult to injury, when the reporter raised with Mr Deane the matter of the Commission's embarrassing admission of wrongdoing in the High Court, in relation to its dealings with me and he was asked if he had any regrets, he stated emphatically "I have no regrets".

All public officials who fall under the ambit of the Integrity Commission, take note. This is the same man who readily agreed to chair the Commission of Enquiry into UDeCOTT, the business of which was the basis of the trumped up charges which he and his Commission had formulated against me. It did not take mysterious threats for him to stand down; it should take conscience, ethics and integrity. For once the public stood its ground and the people prevailed.

The President asked in his speech "What structures are in place for effective follow-up to ensure that .the national patrimony is safeguarded" and he was concerned about transactions and "guardians of the public wealth" and private enterprise that are outside the purview of the Integrity Commission". How can these concerns be properly addressed by a Commission which stands guilty of engaging in lawlessness to the detriment of citizens?

If the Commission is not prepared to acknowledge its own shortcomings and act according to the highest ethical standards then its mealy-mouthed utterances are nothing but an annoyance to the public and a provocation to the private sector into whose business it seeks to extend its infected tentacles.

As we talk about becoming a developed country there are two fundamental pillars which differentiate countries from one another. There are those in which office holders fall in love with their positions and become less and less accountable as they grow bigger than the posts into which they have been placed.

The other group of countries is one where institutions stand above office holders and are paramount in the public interest and in defence of these necessary institutions those in high office do not hesitate to act decisively to preserve the country's dignity and its quality of life. Only we can determine where we fall in the scheme of things and empty slogans will not cut it.

With respect to the "fun" that was had by those who served on the Commission I trust that provision was made for that in the Integrity in Public Life Act.

- Dr Keith Rowley is MP for Diego Martin West