By Louis Wade
The Belize Integrity Commission is on pause again. The limbo was created this time when two of the three names, submitted by the Prime Minister, backed down after New legislation was tabled in the National Assembly.
The previous excuse for the absence of this most important commission was echoed on Wednesday when PM Barrow stated “as early as a couple of years ago … we had tried to constitute an original Board but got stuck when we discovered that we didn’t have a chartered accountant on it.”
Yes, the inability to name a chartered accountant to the Integrity commission placed the entire Commission on pause for several years; a chartered accountant, of which there are more than 50 in Belize. And now this.
Defunct since 2011, the lack of an Integrity Commission clearly does not bode well for lovers of Transparency and Accountability. Since the 2008 General Elections, this important oversight to Belize’s anti corruption efforts has only sat for 2 of a possible 6 years! Appointed in 2009 with BQ Pitts as its chairman, this administration’s first Integrity Commission served for only two years.
It became defunct when BQ Pitts was appointed to the post of Attorney General. Since then, various “omissions” have rendered it defunct.
In his new Years speech, PM Barrow promised that in 2014 he would “ remedy omissions such as the
failure to appoint the Integrity Commission”. This was a welcomed announcement seeing that the conversation regarding corruption has escalated during these “second term blues”.
By the 28th January, Attorney Marilyn Williams was appointed as Chairperson and by February 6th the Senate had approved the appointments to the Integrity Commission. Movement at last.
But it was the actions of the House of Representatives just one day prior, on February 5, that brought everything once again to a screeching halt.
On that day Belize was forced to pass legislation to avoid being blacklisted, ensuring instead the Country’s compliance with the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force. The irony is that a law meant to stamp out multi-national corruption and trans-border movement of illicit finances has now become a hurdle for the sitting government to constitute an Integrity Commission!
The new laws expands the definition of Politically Exposed Persons (PEP), qualifying those who sit on Statutory boards. Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act, Chapter 12 of the Laws of Belize; Section 6 requires everyone in public life (PEP’s ) to make sworn declarations of their assets, income, and liabilities, including those of their spouse and children living with them.
Thus, two appointees excused themselves immediately after recognizing that they were now identified as the very kind of persons they were being asked to oversee.
In his recent interview, PM Barrow hinted that even the opposition may have some of the very same reservations. Clearly, appointees must not only be people who our leaders CLAIM to be people of integrity, they must also be SEEN to be people of integrity. They themselves must be able to be subjected to the very scrutiny as the people that they are mandated to scrutinize, for they ALL are subjected to the same temptations.
Are people of integrity that hard to find in Belize? Certainly not. Many reading this column could name individuals that could qualify and would even volunteer. The problem is, THEY do not fit the hidden criteria; Political parties pride LOYALTY over integrity. The Patronage system, which is contrary to sound principles, is normally how many seats on Boards are appropriated. Combined with the prevalent cultural attitude that when one’s Party is in government “DA fi we time now fi eat”, the loyal self-servers will be less likely to subject themselves to such scrutiny. The result?
A smaller political pool to choose from. Truly, a Bipartisan selection is NOT the same as an Independent selection.
Bipartisanship is NOT the best way to go if we want a vibrant, objective, and reliable Integrity Commission.
Additionally, several who have not withdrawn their names from the current list are sitting on multiple boards!
The last remanding government appointee sat on the infamous Belize Airports Authority (BAA) which had to be dissolved because of the recent cheque scandal.
This begs the question, do we want people on the integrity commission who are already representing GOB on multiple boards? Is this government short of capable hands, forced to recycle the same people through various positions?
If integrity in government is a priority, if reduction in Corruption is our mantra, then, What is keeping us back? The Government Release stated clearly that “it will now begin the search for persons prepared to serve on the Commission”, offering the idea that it was a current undertaking.
However, in the PM’s comments to the media this week, he stated that “… I have been too busy really to have conducted any search for replacements”.
Is the Prime Minister carrying out the search single-handedly? Is there no department or person who could carry out the search for these people?
Putting in place the mechanisms that will keep us walking “the straight and narrow” in a time when “broad is the way that leads to destruction” MUST be a priority.
Is it possible that it is not just that we are not ready to constitute an Integrity Commission? Is it that we are not truly ready for integrity?