The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – On the Prevention of Corruption 7
I suppose that as a keen student of the law relating to employment and especially that of its termination, I ought to have focused today’s column on the ongoing retrenchment in the public sector, its accordance with fairness and its likely economic and social consequences for the nation. However, that discussion will have to await a future column; today I propose to complete my analysis of the Integrity in Public Life Bill currently engaging structured civic and parliamentary debate.
What is most remarkable about the Bill, in my estimation, is the stratification of requirements placed on the specified person in public life, all designed to ensure a squeaky clean existence. There must be a declaration of the financial affairs of the official and of his or her immediate household; he or she must file a statement of registrable interests if an MP; must declare any gifts valued above a stipulated amount; must not commit any acts of corruption that include the sexual or other harassment of a co-worker; and is further subject to a Code of Conduct for Persons in Public Life to be devised by the Commission. It is almost as if we have moved from a political culture of merely assuming or alleging corruption to a position of zero tolerance for the slightest whiff of any such misconduct.
If it is enacted and strictly enforced in its current form, this Bill will serve to ensure that any corruption in the public sector will be significantly reduced if not eliminated, although one possible undesired consequence might be the deterrence from public service of those individuals who might want to keep their financial affairs away from the scrutiny of any other. We shall see eventually what is the ultimate disposal of the legislation, but the populist reaction so far appears to be one of an understated cynicism that it will ever see the light of day or of parliamentary approval.
The Code of Conduct, to be established by the Commission after public consultation, will assumedly provide a charter of ethical behaviour for public officers. The Commission will also police the Code, being endowed with the power to summon an officer to appear before it and to require him or her to furnish requested information under pain of criminal penalty. According to Clause 66-
Where the Commission is of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a public official contravened the Code of Conduct, the Commission may
- (a) request the official in writing to furnish any further information or documents that it may require;
- (b) require the official to attend an inquiry of the Commission at a specified time to be heard on any matter relating to the alleged contravention.
(2) A public official who fails, without reasonable cause, to attend an inquiry being conducted pursuant to this section or to furnish any information that the Commission requests him to furnish, or knowingly gives any false or incomplete information at such an inquiry is guilty of an offence and is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine of $15 000 or to imprisonment for one year or to both.
(3) The Commission shall not take any adverse decision without giving the public official an opportunity to be heard.
It bears remarking that the fine here for non-compliance compares favourably for dissuasion with some of the others, arguably of a far more serious nature, that we have considered earlier. Also meriting observation is the opinion that the drafters of the Bill appear to have elevated membership of the Commission to a near full time occupation if it is to be effective in discharging its designated functions. The question again begs asking, are we prepared to expend these substantial sums in order to combat the appearance of corruption in public life? There may very well be differing responses to this query.
Where the Commission determines that there has been a contravention of the Code, it may not only recommend the punishment or disciplinary measures that it believes ought to be taken against the public official in its report of the matter but, depending on the status of the official concerned, it must send a copy of that report to various entities. This makes for interesting reading in Clause 67 (3)-
(i) the head of the Public Service and the Governor-General, in the case of an alleged contravention of the Code of Conduct by a public officer;
(ii) the Speaker of the House of Assembly or President of the Senate, as the case may be, and the Governor-General, in the case of an alleged contravention of the Code of Conduct by a member of the House of Assembly or the Senate;
(iii) the Governor-General, in the case of an alleged contravention of the Code of Conduct by the head of the Public Service or by the Speaker of the House of Assembly or the President of the Senate; and
(iv) the public body in relation to which the public official is a public
official, in the case of an alleged contravention of the Code of
Conduct by a public official other than a public official referred
to in sub-paragraphs (i) to (iii).
On receipt of the report, the entity that receives the report shall immediately decide what action should be taken, implement such measures and inform the Commission within thirty days –Clause 67 (4)(b)
(i) of the follow-up actions or disciplinary measures that will be or have been taken against the public official in response to the report;
(ii) that no further action is required to be taken against the public official in response to the report; or
(iii) that no decision has been made as to the measures to be taken in response to the report, of the reasons for the delay, and of the date by which a decision will be made and sent to the Commission.
It should be of more than passing interest to observe the nature of the punishment that the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate or the Governor General for that matter might impose on an MP in this instance, given the autonomy of these parliamentary bodies and the nature of their governing rules.