Integrity in Public Office
From our Archives: March 4 and March 11, 2002
By NAN Ducreay
Ladies and gentlemen, fellow citizens of Dominica, at the dawn of this New Year 2002, I take this opportunity to address you on fundamental matters of great national importance, that is Integrity in Public Office.
This presentation is not directed at any political party or government currently holding the reigns of public office. It merely seeks to establish broad principles and policies for good and accountable Government, which were effectively pursued and upheld by the Dominica Labour Party Government when led by Hon. Premier Oliver Leblanc several years ago.
It also makes sound recommendations in furtherance of these objectives. In the year 1961, and henceforth, characterized by a new social and political order, the Dominica Labour Party led by Honourable Premier E.O. Leblanc assisted by a humble and honourable team of ministers: to wit - Hon Will Stevens, L.C. Didier, Honourable Moir James, Hon R.O.P Armour, and Hon. N.A.N. Ducreay were appointed by the Honourable Premier to govern the state of Dominica.
We served the country primarily for progress and development and not for personal gain. Our Government set very high standards of political ethics which all ministers were obliged to observe and to act in compliance therewith.
Although there was no integrity legislation yet enacted, we nevertheless upheld the principle of integrity in public office as a matter of convention. This principle is found in the British constitutional system where many constitutional practices are upheld and practiced as a matter of convention. Britain is therefore very often referred to as a country with an unwritten constitution.
Our Cabinet decided that ministers should refrain from owning and operating enterprises that may conflict with their respective ministerial duties. We also ensured that all decisions made by Cabinet regarding the granting of concessions to firms and enterprises, were made against the background of merit and were laid down as policy guidelines, but were never granted in a haphazard manner. Bribery and nepotism were seriously condemned.
In fact, Premier E.O. Leblanc was such a great disciplinarian that a business firm who falters and sends him a valuable gift while simultaneously asking for business concessions would encounter the unpleasant return of the gift and the business manager would be warned against the recurrence of such misconduct in the future. We also upheld very rigidly a legal safeguard against corruption which occurs in many legislations governing statutory boards and other government authorities, that a minister or member of a statutory board or other authority should not vote on any matter in which he/she has a pecuniary interest and that there should be a declaration of that interest by the minister or member concerned.
My ministerial industrial policy was so well established that I sat at the Geneva Estate House in the 1960 s with Philip Nassief, his deceased father Mr. Elias Nassief, Mr. Raymond Astaphan, deceased, and discussed very intensively detailed plans for the early establishment of the Dominica Coconut Products as one of the fundamental industries of the future.
Because of my very persuasive and convincing ability, I was able to avert very quickly deceased Premier Robert Bradshaw s invitation to Mr. Phillip Nassief to set up a rum distillery in the island of St. Kitts. For this reason the birth of Dominica Coconut Products became an obvious reality.
This action earned me the reputation then, of being referred to by many persons as a Great Champion of Industry. Despite the fact that we granted maximum concessions to Dominica Coconut Products to guarantee their economic survival in the early years and although we saw the industry as one which had tremendous potential, no minister of government then, bought shares in the company. It was not legally wrong for us to do so, but we observed the rules of political ethics set by our Cabinet even against our personal interests.
I strongly support the absolute need for the enactment of integrity legislation because no minister of Government should use his ministerial influence to secure personal gains.
I myself, when I held the humble position of Minister for Trade and Production, declined the acceptance of a large monetary offer from a foreign financing institution because of my strong and resilient nature, and my completely negative attitude to dishonesty and corruption.
Our administration could well have been labelled the Champions of Integrity in Public Office. I sincerely wish that when the history of Dominica will have been fully written, the name of the administration will find an honourable place therein.
For the benefit of posterity, to prove and confirm my contentions, when I entered the political arena in the year 1957 at the early age of 26 years, I had already built a 2-storey building as my dwelling house and had already accumulated reasonable financial resources from a local lumber business venture which I owned and operated in the city of Roseau close to the Old Market. But when I left politics in the year 1970 I was financially depressed indeed. I had virtually no financial savings whatsoever. I had a family estate which was heavily mortgaged and like one of my ministerial colleagues, I had many loans to repay, which I had endorsed for persons who borrowed from the bank but never rapid.
I had already begun legal studies and had been admitted to the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple in England. I had greatly excelled in the first legal examination for the bar, but because of my rather slender financial resources then, I was unable to proceed to the UK to continue my legal studies.
I was not unique in this rather adverse financial situation. However, what made it even more challenging for me was the fact that I was instrumental in securing and submitting model legislation for the enactment of parliamentary pensions but as my exit from parliament preceded the enactment of legislation for this aforementioned purpose I was unable to benefit by way of parliamentary pension, which condition remains unchanged even up to the present time.
Hon. Edward Leblanc made his political exit being very impecunious as well, but was somewhat rescued by a small insignificant pension which was justifiably augmented only within recent months. Hon. Wills Stevens deceased depended on his monthly pension to which he was entitled as an ex-inspector of schools.
Hon. Mable Moir James was very much in the same position to the extent that she, very quickly, after her loss of ministerial power accepted a humble position at J. Astaphans & Co.
Hon. R.O. P Armour had only his legal profession to resort to as a bread earner.
I am firmly of the view that integrity legislation should be enacted to enforce integrity in public office. I also believe that if integrity legislation is to be very effective, the declaration and control of campaign funds should also form an integral part of that legislation.
He who pays the piper may very well attempt to call the tune. For this reason, all campaign fund contributions should be declared to the integrity commission with the names of all the contributors. Proper records should be kept and the funds should be deposited in a local bank.
The public has an unfettered right of access to these records. There should also be limits on the campaign contributions of persons, firms or enterprises to political parties or governments as unnecessarily large contributions may influence the granting of inequitable concessions to those persons, firms or enterprises which may cause unfair competition to other persons, firms or enterprises in the same field of business. The principle of honest and transparent government must be manifestly upheld.
The Hon. Finance Minister responsibility equates that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in England. The Finance Minister holds the public purse in trust for the nation. When duties or taxes are to be imposed on goods in a country, whether imported or produced locally, it is the Hon. Finance Minister who has to introduce the measure in Cabinet or Parliament. He has a fiduciary responsibility not to disclose in advance the details of his financial measure to any person, whether merchant of otherwise who may use this information to create unfair competition -amongst other merchants in the same field of business. It could also frustrate the revenue process as well. Neither should the Minister of Finance use this information for his own selfish ends.
Taking all relevant factors into consideration, ministers, including the Hon. Prime Minister, who is referred to as "Primus Inter Pares" --1`the First Among Equals" must be honest and transparent in their public actions and be very honourable indeed.
The Prime Minister or any minister of Government must be prepared to resign from office, particularly if their integrity in public office becomes genuinely questionable. It is an acceptable fact, however, that those who manage large financial resources should be reasonably remunerated. Consequently, those who steer and govern the ship of state and who must inevitably take the final responsibility for the economic progress or the economic recession of the nation must be well remunerated. Additionally, reasonable remuneration to ministers of government will attract the most competent managers of the economy to our government. For example, a person with a good managerial track record who has taken a business or enterprise from rags to riches or from crisis to recovery may, if elected and given appropriate responsibility, help to chart our economic future to its appropriate destiny.
I strongly recommend that the Prime Minister and his ministers must be the highest paid public servants in the state and that their pensions must also be such as to enable them to live very comfortable lives upon their retirement.
I further recommend that a Prime Minister's salary should be exempted from the payment of income tax since he is totally responsible to give proper guidance to his Cabinet, and he can make or break the country through gross inefficiency, bad judgement or corrupt practices. It is on his advice that a minister is appointed to office and it is on his advice that a minister must relinquish office. It is he who decides whether a head of department should be appointed to a particular office on the recommendation of the Public Service Commission. Therefore, although he cannot in expressed terms appoint a head of department, he can, in fact, disappoint him even when recommended by the appropriate authority. His position therefore is very unique.
I therefore summarise my humble recommendations as follows:-
I. Integrity in public office must be very rigidly upheld;
All concessions agreed to by government as a grant to persons, firms businesses or enterprises must be laid down as policy guidelines and the public should be informed accordingly.
The declaration and control of campaign funds should form an integral part of integrity legislation.
Bribery and nepotism must be strictly condemned.
Minister must not allow their business interests to conflict with their ministerial duties.
Transparency in government is a fundamental requirement.
The Prime Minister as well as his ministers must resign from office if their integrity becomes genuinely questionable. Alternatively, he may dissolve parliament and prepare for fresh general elections.
The Prime Minister and his ministers must be the highest paid public officers in the state.
The Prime Minister's salary must be exempted from the payment of taxes.
Finally, we should write into our integrity legislation that we uphold unchallengeable principle of "Good and Accountable Government" and we undertake to institute the most rigid procedures of accountability to ensure that funds for development granted to our government by donor countries will be honestly and faithfully disbursed.
Such as established policy should be sent to all diplomatic and consular offices abroad and should even be written into all documents intended to obtain funds for our country s development. In these days of scarce financial resources, this policy will greatly assist our nation.
I hereby crave the indulgence of the citizens of Dominica for me to close my speech with the following
"Fideles hominess et feminas patrian ducere volemus"
"We require faithful men and women to lead the country".
May God bless you all during the New Year, 2002.
Thank you for your audience.
Formerly Minister for Trade and Production in the Dominica Labour Party-led Hon. Premier E.O. Leblanc. 1957-1970.
January 10, 2002.