Editorial: Integrity

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The Asot Michael affair just got a bit stranger.  Following months of public and opposition pressure for the Integrity Commission to act, the Commission has decided to launch an investigation, except, they have no staff and no money to undertake such an investigation and have to go begging, cap in hand, to the government. Basically, the Commission is saying that it is currently unable to perform the duties that are the very reason for its existence.
No doubt, you are scratching your head, but follow along because the release from the Chairman of the Integrity Commission, Radford Hill, is one for the ages.  It begins, “Following the informal comments made by the Chairman of the Integrity Commission to a member of the media in relation to the Asot Michael matter, the Commissioners have met and discussed the matter and considered all of the available information and have determined that there are grounds for an investigation …”  Okay so far, but then it gets strange.
Hill continues, “… as currently constituted the Integrity Commission does not have the staff or resources to mount such an investigation.”  Wait!  Hang on a minute Mr. Chairman, what do you mean?  What exactly does the Commission do on a regular basis if it has no resources?  And how can the Commission be considered an active body if it does not have the ability to carry out the most rudimentary investigations because of a lack of resources?
The Integrity Commission is established in the Integrity of Public Life Act, 2004.  (We will make that document and The Prevention of Corruption Act, 2004 available for quick reference on antiguaobserver.com).  The three members of the commission are appointed by the Governor General in his own discretion.  This is sensible since the Commission must have some independence from political influence.  In fact, that independence is considered later in the Act in 12 (2), which states, “In the performance of its functions the Commission and the staff of the Commission shall not be subject to the control or direction of any other person or authority.”
Now, “the funds of the Commission shall consist of such funds as may be appropriated to the Commission by Parliament,” and “All expenses incurred by the Commission for the purposes of this Act are a charge on the Consolidated Fund,” but if the Commission has to beg the very people it may be investigating for funding, then isn’t the Commission subject, in some way, to financial control and direction?  An alien dropping from space and looking at the situation, could only conclude that if the Commission is starved for resources then the ability for the body to effectively perform its duties is effectively stymied.
How starved?  Well according the Hill, the Commission only has a half-resource, “a secretary, whose responsibilities are shared with the Information Commissioner’s office.” Let’s go back to that pesky law, shall we? The Miscellaneous section states, “the Governor-General shall appoint a Secretary on such terms and conditions as he may determine,” so we will be asking the GG for the terms and conditions that he determined.  It also states that
the secretary shall, “subject to the direction of the Commission, perform all functions necessary for the efficient and effective discharge of the functions of the Commission.”  So many questions!
That’s not all.  The Act states, “The Commission shall be provided with staff adequate for
the prompt and efficient discharge of its functions under this Act.”  The word “shall” is very powerful in law and indicates that there is no option.  But, this is Antigua so apparently there is.  Those who joke that our laws are more guidelines than laws, must be howling in despair.
Don’t worry though, the Commissioners intend to “inquire into this matter and make a formal request from the Government for the necessary resources to enable us to conduct the investigation.”   Considering the language above, we wonder what would happen if the government politely says that funding is not available at this time due to other priorities?  Plan B already seems to be baked into the release.  It states, “Additionally, if deemed necessary, we will ask the Police Commissioner to make an investigator available to us to assist us in the investigation.”  Good thing the police force is overflowing with integrity in the public’s eyes!  
We must admit, the commissioners did provide us with a chuckle at the end.  They admitted that their interaction with stakeholders and the public generally has been very limited and promised to “commence a public outreach program aimed at sensitising and informing the public of the existence of the Integrity Commission, its role and mandate and the goals and objectives set for the short, medium and long term, at the same time encouraging the people in public life to comply with provisions of the Act, failing which, we will aggressively enforce compliance with regards to the filing of declarations and other matters, within the confines of our limited resources.”
Translation:  we know you haven’t heard much from us, and don’t even know we exist or know what we are supposed to do, but we will be telling you soon.  In the meantime, we are asking everyone in government to please be good and say no to corruption because we really don’t have the resources to do much more.
Priceless!

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