BANK delays and busy lives were two of the excuses given last week by various public figures flagged by the Integrity Commission for not filing income, assets, and liabilities for 2017 on time. With all due respect to these officials, that’s simply not good enough.
Persons who offer themselves up for public service must understand the requirements of the law and the clear timelines set out. Persons in public life are entrusted with great powers and authority. They literally oversee billions of dollars amassed on behalf of the citizenry. The Integrity Commission is a basic check and guarantee of transparency. To not treat the obligations it imposes seriously is to shrug off the obligations that come into effect when one takes an oath of office.
Some individuals, such as those suffering from medical problems, might have an excuse. But in truth, all public officials should have staff dedicated to ensuring they comply with the statutory timelines. Those who do not have access to such resources might well seek to reach out to the commission to leverage extra time or even ask for clerical assistance when it comes to filling out the form. All should show they are taking their obligations seriously.
Yet, for all intents and purposes, some officials have conveyed the opposite impression.
“I just did not get it together,” said one. “I’m new to it and I’m getting it done,” said another. Some blamed the bank. Some blamed their accountant. Some said it was an “oversight”.
These officials need to understand they are playing with fire. In a notice published in a local newspaper on Wednesday, hundreds of them were listed for not filing including government ministers, senators, mayors and heads of boards from all sides of the political and non-political divide. Appearing in these notices is embarrassing.
But more worryingly, the large number conveys a distressing message to the general public. It gives the impression of our system of oversight being ignored by large numbers. That kind of lassitude may well prove pivotal moving forward.
In our country’s fast-paced political environment, all indicators point to the likelihood that the issue of integrity in public life will be, yet again, a major factor in the upcoming election season. Officials who do not ensure they run a tight ship do so at their own peril. More regulation of political parties is being promised by the Dr Keith Rowley administration in the form of campaign finance legislation. But if the current legislation on the books is being so flagrantly defied, how can we hope to make a meaningful difference by enacting more laws?
Ultimately, that’s why all public officials must be more vigilant when it comes to meeting the requirements of the act. Otherwise, they risk undermining the very system they are appointed to administer and protect.