Integrity matters

The Red House, the seat of this country's parliament.  Photo by Jeff Mayers
The Red House, the seat of this country's parliament. Photo by Jeff Mayers

The Integrity Commission, in a statement on Thursday, saluted an increase in the number of public officials who had filed their declarations and statements of interests under the Integrity in Public Life Act.

According to the commission, 121 people have submitted their documents, but its list, as of October 29, included several high-profile names who were due to be served ex-parte applications from the High Court to fulfil their obligation to declare their interests.

This followed an announcement in September that the commission had made 150 applications to the High Court with regard to citizens in public life who had not filed their declarations yet.

In 2020, the commission served 23 ex-parte court orders on documentation delinquents, after publishing their names in newspapers and the Gazette.

In June 2019, the list was even longer, as the commission threatened to publish a list of 841 people who had failed to submit declarations.

It's been a running issue with the commission, which must constantly dog the heels of elected officials and professionals serving on state boards urging them to be personally transparent after assuming public office.

It's not as if there is no penalty for ignoring the reminders of the Integrity Commission. Failing to comply with an ex-parte order can lead to a fine of $150,000, and failing to provide the required particulars for holding public office makes a guilty party liable to a fine of $250,000 and ten years’ imprisonment.

That penalty characterises the failure to file declarations as a criminal failing, and not a chummy request to be above board.

Since the proclamation of the Integrity in Public Life Act and the establishment of the commission, there have been concerns by public officials about the sanctity of the personal information provided under the act, but the alternative, widespread corruption, is far worse.

Both major political parties pay lip service to the issue of campaign finance reform, and the act is an important effort at limiting corruption.

It's a public-sector version of a practice now firmly entrenched in the banking sector, where documentation proving a source of funds is routinely required from ordinary private citizens under “know your customer” laws.

The commission has its own organisational challenges. In 2017, the staff of its compliance unit was reduced by 70 per cent. Internal reorganisation for efficiency led to departures and reassignments. A commission actively monitoring public officials who are prime targets for inducements should be more proactively supported in its work.

As for the document delinquents, they should be aware of the disconnect between lamenting the public propensity for “do as you please,” while at the same time, in this critical requirement, setting a poor example.

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