12 Oct 2011

The Integrity Files… or the saga continues

From the little I know of him personally, and from what others who know him better say, Eric St Cyr, chairman of the Integrity Commission (IC), is an honourable man, decent and upright, a first-rate economist. He is also a church pastor, I understand (though that doesn't necessarily make him honourable, or decent, or upright).

But, given the opportunity to speak to the media, he seems to forget the sensitivity of his temporal position, and appears unable to confine his comments to a diplomatic minimum — perhaps, I don't know, there is an expansiveness inherent in evangelism that afflicts him in this other capacity.

Thus last year he ventured the opinion that Jack Warner should choose between FIFA and ministerial office. Then, on the matter of the Prime Minister's residential accommodation after her election, he said that the furore would not have arisen if she had stayed at an hotel. (He was technically correct, but technical correctness and public perception are often two very different things.) Now he tells the media that his IC is investigating Miss Jearlean John, whom, it turns out, the IC hadn't bothered to inform of this. Yet in each of these cases, a simple "no comment" from him would have been enough.

On the issue of the PM's residential arrangement, Jack Warner, already furious over St Cyr's previous suggestion that Warner choose between Blatter and Bissessar, called on him to resign. St Cyr will know now, and so will the rest of the country, that at the time I telephoned Warner and asked him please to desist: St Cyr had spoken out of turn, I reasoned; he hadn't meant any harm.

Now I can't plead St Cyr's cause anymore, with Warner or anyone else, since he has committed what to my mind is cardinal error, one that should never be committed by any member, let alone the chairman, of any IC. Unforgivably, he has, with respect to Miss John, violated the elementary rule of natural justice.

You don't have to be a judge or a lawyer or a pastor to understand that rule; good parents or teachers or managers practise it all the time in everyday life. But our IC should grasp it better than most, if only because a former IC was found guilty of infringing it.

Remember the first case brought by Keith Rowley against the then IC? Rowley too had found out that he was being investigated, and had taken court action. In its order of April 20, 2007 the court said among other things that the IC's "failure...to inform Dr Rowley of allegations under investigation in relation to him or to give reasonable notice to him of any alleged failure on his part to fulfil a duty or obligation under the Act ...was ultra vires the (Integrity in Public Life) Act (and) in breach of the rules of natural justice..."

The same applies to the present IC, and most particularly to Chairman St Cyr. I have often written and spoken about the need to preserve and strengthen our institutions, the foundation pillars of our society. Those who have read and heard me over the years know that one of my most profound problems with Patrick Manning was what I saw as his unrelenting assault on those institutions — the Public Service, the Judiciary, the Ombudsman, the Office of the DPP, etc., — aimed at bringing them under his control. And a society without strong independent institutions is a society that isn't worth the name.

In recent years we've been having no end of trouble with our ICs. The Gordon Deane-led IC sinned unpardonably in asking Manning for guidance in the Rowley matter — this from a body supposed to be constitutionally independent!

The John Martin-led IC, which scandalously clung to office even after the court used it as a floor cloth in the first Rowley matter in 2007, finally managed to resign in February 2009 after the court found in the second Rowley matter that it had "acted in bad faith in relation to Dr Rowley and (was) guilty of the tort of misfeasance in public office''. (An Integrity Commission acting in bad faith! An Integrity Commission wrongfully exercising its lawful authority!)

The Henry Charles-led IC imploded after the revelation that Charles, a Catholic priest with a Yale doctorate in ethics, was a plagiarist. (Another member was found not to have satisfied the criteria for membership, and a third charged that the President had reneged on his promise to make him the deputy chairman.) Now this.

With his latest faux pas, Dr St Cyr has severely damaged the institution of the IC; his prior indiscreet remarks had already weakened it. His continued membership of the IC cannot be in the best interest of the IC or, more important, of Trinidad and Tobago. I know he is an honourable man, decent and upright. But he seems indifferent to the beckoning of common sense, and to the proper execution of his public responsibilities. The institution is infinitely more important than the individual. He must therefore go. It would be the honourable thing to do. The sooner, the better.

Reginald Dumas

Former Head of the Public Service