Report suggests A&B needs to strengthen Integrity Commission

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The Organization of American States (OAS) Anti-corruption Mechanism for Follow-Up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption (MESICIC) has released its report on Antigua and Barbuda, calling for improvements to be made to the Integrity Commission.

The officials at the Integrity Commission have been complaining about the lack of resources which came to light in June 2018 following calls for the investigation of St. Peter MP Asot Michael.

At the time, the Integrity Commission acknowledged that it did not have enough staff to mount an investigation into Michael, with the Commission needing to make a formal request to the government for additional resources.

In the report released by MESICIC, the Integrity Commission was one of the key topics. The hemispheric body found that the commission continues to be limited in its ability to investigate reports of corruption as it lacks specialized investigators, a method to provide anonymous reporting for persons, and the difficulty for prosecutors to gather enough evidence.

According to the report, “Between 2014 and 2018, there have been eight cases involving charges of Corruption in Public Office. Two cases were dismissed, three were withdrawn, and an additional three are still pending.”

The recommendations included the strengthening of the Integrity Commission by ensuring adequate resources are granted for the commission to effectively carry out its duties.

“[It is also recommended to] adopt necessary measures [to strengthen] the Integrity Commission and ensure that it is provided with the necessary human and investigative resources to perform its functions properly, according to the Integrity of Public Life Act and the Prevention of Corruption Act.”

The report stated that, “It [is] recommended to consider amending the Prevention of Corruption Act so that the definition of public officer is expanded to include all public officials, including public officials serving under contract, as well as all persons who are performing public functions.”

The report also made recommendations relating to the treatment of whistleblowers, noting that despite persons having the ability to report acts of corruption to the Integrity Commission, Information Commission, or the police, there is no specific mechanism to protect the identity of such persons.

The Committee suggests that, “The protection mechanisms must cover both the physical integrity and employment of whistleblowers and their families, particularly when the whistleblower is a civil servant making a report against their superiors or workmates.”

The MESICIC report also dealt with the government hiring system, recommending the introduction of reforms to the public service to reduce inequality in the system.

According to the report, “The committee observes that the recruitment process of public servants can become subjective once other factors are considered other than merit, which creates an unfair system for qualified applicants.

“Additionally, the committee understands that the process of cross over has become a tool used to hire public officials that does not assure the openness, equity and efficiency of the system for government hiring in Antigua and Barbuda, since the general public does not have an equal chance of being recruited.”

Included in the public service reform package were recommendations to create a manual of job descriptions for all posts in the public service, and to require the Public Service Commission to make public the vacancy of a civil service position, including for Cabinet staff.

According to the OAS website, The Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, which was ratified by Antigua and Barbuda in January 2004, was the first international convention intending to fight corruption, by creating measures for the prevention, detection, investigation, and punishment of acts of corruption.

The MESICIC Committee of Experts review the domestic laws and institutions of ratifying states to determine their effectiveness at preventing and combating corruption.

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