The I.P.O Act is intended to not only eradicate the practice in the public service of accumulating wealth by illegitimate means. It also sets out to put an end there to all manifestations of unethical conduct. It seeks to do so by establishing a Code of Conduct, for breach of which "persons in public life" are severely penalized.

The Code identifies conduct which, in performing his or her official duties and functions, a person in public life should not practice. The first concerns the acceptance of rewards from outside sources, and goes to the root of the need for integrity in public office. It merits quotation at length: "A person in public life shall not in return for anything done, or to be done, or omitted to be done in the execution of his duties, ask for or accept for himself or any other person, any money, property, benefits or favours of any kind over and above that which he is lawfully entitled to receive for the performance of his duties."

Related to this is the general rule that no gifts, benefits or advantage should be accepted, whether for the official concerned or on behalf of anyone else. There are three exceptions to this general rule. One is where the gift is a personal gift from a relative or friend. Another is where the personal gift was made genuinely. That is to say, it was not made beforehand to influence how the official performed his duties. Nor was the gift made as a reward for the manner in which the official carried out, or did not carry out, his duties. The third exception is that a person in public life in the performance of his official functions may accept a gift on behalf of the State.

A further rule of conduct is that in respect of all matters of State, including the terms, conditions and privileges of employment, there must be equality of treatment. In particular, no one should be discriminated against because of his or her race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed or gender. Thus, Dominicans ought not to be recruited into the public service or promoted therein depending on whether or not they are card-carrying members or known supporters of the political party in office.

The Code of Conduct stipulates that persons in public life must at all times be guided by what is in the public interest. Private interests must not be allowed to "improperly influence" the conduct of their work or to interfere with their making of decisions. And, where there is any conflict between an official's private interests and his public duties, such conflict "shall be reserved in favour of his public duties."

Further, the Code takes a strong stand against unethical behavior that have condemned virtually everywhere. Among them are, firstly, that a person in public life should not use his or her official position or influence in support of any matter in respect of which he or she has an interest. Such matters include any scheme or contract or proposed contract. Secondly, a person in public life should not use or pass to anyone information or material that is not available to the public, so as to obtain personal gain or benefit. Thirdly, where a person in public life was or is a member or employee of a firm or company which has or has had a contract with Government or a public body, he or she, while in office, should not acquire that firm or company. Neither should that person become a partner or shareholder in that firm or company, or a Director or Manager of one or the other. It is to be noted that this rule of conduct ethical does not apply where the person in public life publicly discloses the nature of his interest in the firm or company as well as the value of the contract held.

Further, the Code re-states the accepted principle that it is highly unethical for a person in public life to use the State's property, including money, or its equipment, supplies or services, or allow them to be used by others, except for authorized and officially approved purposes.

It is an offence for a person in public life to breach the Code of Conduct. And an offender is liable, if convicted before a Magistrate, to a fine of $10,000.00 or to one year imprisonment or to both such fine and imprisonment.

Right of Complaint

Anybody may make a complaint to the Integrity Commission that this or that person in public life has breached this or that provision of the Code of Conduct. This must be done in writing, setting out (a) the particulars of the person against whom the complaint is made; (b) the facts of the breach; (c) the kind of evidence the person complaining intends to bring before the Commission; and (d) other particulars requested.

The Commission has two options. It may reject the complaint. It may do so either because it believes the complaint is frivolous, that is to say, it is foolish, it lacks seriousness and, it has no chance whatsoever of succeeding. The Commission may also reject a citizen's complaint because it is not empowered under the Act to deal with the matter raised in the complaint. The Commission cannot reject a complaint without allowing the complainant "reasonable" opportunity to be heard.

Most importantly, where a complaint is rejected, the person against whom the complaint was made is entitled to take legal action against the complainant in a Court of law. There, the complainant may raise as a defence that the complaint was not made maliciously, frivolously or in bad faith.

The other option available to the Commission is to inquire into the complaint. This is to be done by hearings conducted in private at which the complainant and the person complained of may be represented by an Attorney-at-Law. On conclusion, the Commission is to submit a Report of the proceedings to the Director of Public Prosecutions (D.P.P), as well as to the nation's President. And where the D.P.P, after examination of the Report "and other relevant evidence," is persuaded that the person against whom the complaint was made breached the Code of Conduct, thereby committing an offence, she or he must institute criminal proceedings against the person in breach.

(Dr. William E. Riviere is an Attorney-at-Law)

Copyright © William Para Riviere, July 2014