Address by His Excellency at the Opening Of The Conference of the Commonwealth Caribbean Association of Integrity Commissions and Anti-Corruption Bodies

Address by His Excellency Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona ORTT, SC President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago at the Opening of the Conference Of The Commonwealth Caribbean Association of Integrity Commissions And Anti-Corruption Bodies

address_integrity_commission

It gives me great pleasure this morning, to be amongst such distinguished individuals from the Caribbean, representatives of Integrity Commissions and Anti-Corruption Agencies from around the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen, given your governmental designations and statutory roles, your jobs are arduous and demanding because you all are tasked with a critical role in the transformational development of the Caribbean Region. Corruption and a lack of transparency and accountability are detractors on the road to achieving developed nation status, a journey that all Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are aspiring to and working toward. You all act as watchdogs ensuring that due process is followed and that those in authority are aware of their responsibilities and in lieu of same are held accountable for their actions.

The creation of a platform for Integrity Commissions and Anti-Corruption bodies, to work together and build a joint vision for collective responsible action and to spread a philosophy of integrity and ethics among the people of the Commonwealth Caribbean, is long overdue and is even mandatory. We live in a society where we can no longer depend on the goodwill of people and their ability to understand, the need for absolute transparency and accountability in the progress of a country.

We must therefore cultivate a culture of honesty through legislation and regulatory strictures. Integrity has become a buzz word, a type of sound bite. It is neither. It is a way of life, and if not, it must become a way of life, if we are to progress as a Nation and as a region.

One fundamental and undeniable fact – and it is trite and this is a universal matter: If every nation upheld and implemented every law written and accepted by every government, bodies like the Integrity Commission and Similar Regulatory institutions, would become unnecessary.

This illustrious body of delegates gathered here is tasked with examining the challenges of integrity, transparency and honesty in governance faced by the lawmakers in the region, and the laws must adequately respond to these challenges and possible solutions.

As much as the law continues to evolve, we do have laws that are implementable and are not being implemented throughout the region. There is a diverse array of legislation, for example the Proceeds of the Crime Act, Money Laundering Legislation and the Prevention of Corruption Act. The one with the fatal sting in its scorpion tail is the Prevention of Corruption Act, a piece of legislation that I had input in. It was considered draconian and it is, yet it is indeed a rare moment when this particular piece of legislation is invoked. What about the scorpion itself, the Board of Inland Revenue.

During my some 30 years as a State Prosecutor and then as a Deputy Director of Public Prosecution and finally as a criminal judge, I have pronounced on the potential effective utility of the Board of Inland Revenue in Trinidad and Tobago and correspondingly in the Caribbean region. I can recall that whenever I mentioned it at workshops and conferences, the room would go silent and officials in authority would look at me with a jaundiced eye. I know I am in the good company of friends here today, so this is not going to happen and I wish to remind this group of the cognoscenti of what I stated at the opening of Parliament in 2013, and I quote myself, “There have been allegations of profligate enrichment by persons in authority. There have been complaints and observations for just as many years that the asset base of politicians is inconsistent with their income and tax returns and there has been a hue and cry for the intervention of the Integrity Commission or the Fraud Squad. Why are we taking such a divergent route when we can wake up that sleeping giant called the Board of Inland Revenue? Rise from your slumber.”

I often ask myself in fairness to the Board of Inland Revenue in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean, if they suffer from being under resourced or undermanned, through mere inadvertence or whether it is the result of an egregious intention. Maybe in fact it is my criminal mind at work as I have had to deal with smart men and criminals all my professional life. I will not lose faith in recognising that with diminishing corruption, there will be real economic growth and social transformation in the Caribbean diaspora.

Those of us, who are expected to be responsible in one way or the other, in ensuring that the Integrity Commission and similar bodies within the region, do their job flawlessly, are faced with an obvious need for continuous refinement and updating of the laws and regulations which oversee their operations.

We need to always pursue getting the best and the brightest in all sectors and we sometimes encounter problems to effect same. Firstly, regionally, we are faced with a burgeoning dilemma in terms of persuading experienced and distinguished citizens to serve as Commissioners or members where applicable, on Commissions and Boards. One disincentive is the reporting mechanism that is deemed too onerous and intrusive and this is something you all will need to look at, its merits and demerits.

Persons who fall under the ambit of the Integrity Commissions, have expressed great apprehension that the process of reportage of highly personal information, mainly of a financial nature, is not absolutely secure, apart from involving tedious annual submission of copious documents to the Integrity Commission.

I therefore submit that this issue of confidentiality touches a raw nerve and needs to be treated more stringently and with greater sensitivity. There has to be a modernization of the process of handling confidential data by the Integrity Commissions of the region with watertight safeguards, and it invariably will impact on the willingness of persons to serve as Commissioners and will ease the minds of those who are required to report to the various Integrity Commissions in the regions.

The fact that we are all gathered here today, is certainly a manifestation that we recognize in the Caribbean region that we must deal with corruption and more particularly, the economics of corruption and its deleterious effects and the impact it is having on our sense of genuine governance, our standard of living, our vision and the belief in ourselves as a people.

In order to ensure the integrity of the very Integrity Commissions throughout the Caribbean region, confidentiality must be their bedrock, given how our society throughout the Caribbean is so interconnected. To give you an anecdote of what is required on this issue of confidentiality, a very dear deceased uncle, Gregorrio Marchan, being the foreman of a jury, coming home confronted by his curious wife as to the case he’s doing, and everyday he will tell her the same thing, “The judge has directed that I discuss this case with no one and that includes you.” That is what confidentiality is all about.

Delegates, I do hope that the resolutions you arrive at will further raise the bar of what is required by all of us, not only those that fall under your purview, but rather all citizens of our respective countries. In so doing, decisions arrived at must not be the result of a veritable talk shop but rather decisions with specific implementable timelines to get the job done.

I now wish to officially declare open the Conference of the Commonwealth Caribbean Association of Integrity Commissions and Anti-Corruption Bodies. I thank you.

0