I.P.O Law in Practice - 3
Of course, the best measure of the success of the I.P.O law is to be found in what has been achieved in its six-year period of implementation. Much of this record of performance is set out in annual reports made to Parliament by the Commission.
At the end of the first year, that is to say, 31st August 2009, the number of persons listed as being "in public life" stood at 119. Of that number, 17 were reported to the D.P.P for filing declarations after the due date and, eight, for not having filed any declaration at all. The Commission approved and certified 107 declarations. Two complaints were filed, but both were rejected on grounds that the Commission did not have the power to act on them. In the following year, 33 persons were reported for late filing, while 13 failed to file. No complaint was filed. In the third year, that is to say, 2010–2011, the appointment of a Member of the Commission was challenged in the Courts. In response, the Court of Appeal issued an injunction against that Member's attendance at Commission meetings pending resolution of the matter. And while the court process crawled on, the Member's 3-year term of office came to an end.
During the Commission's fourth year in operation, that is to say, 2011-2012, the number of persons listed as being "in public life" was 164. Of that number 96% submitted declarations on time, 3% filed late, and 1% failed to file. One complaint only was made; it concerned an alleged breach of the Code of Conduct. The alleged offender responded by applying to the Court for judicial review of the commencement of proceedings against him. Today, three years on, the court has not yet ruled.
In the Commission's fifth year of service, 91% of persons in public life submitted their declarations on time, while 4.5% filed late and 4.5% did not file. Further, the Commission made forty (40) queries of persons filing declarations and conducted some interviews with them. It certified 159 declarations. A complaint was made to the Commission in respect of an "unauthorized person" who is said to have published confidential information via the internet. The police have conducted an inquiry into the matter. There has been much talk in the media concerning the matter. But, as yet, nothing has come of this. Relatedly, a Member of the Commission has filed an action for defamation against that alleged "unauthorized person". The case has not yet come to trial.
It should be noted that, so far as is known, in the six years of the operation of the Act, the office of the D.P.P has charged one person only for violation of any of its provisions. The charge concerned the person's failure or, better yet, refusal to file a declaration. The case was heard before a Magistrate. The Defendant was held to be not liable.
Can this record of performance from 2008 to 2014 be said to be an impressive one? Can it be treated as a positive signal for the future? In answering this, bear in mind that six years is not sufficient time in which to make a lasting pronouncement on the effectiveness of any piece of legislation. But, it must be understood that six years is time enough to identify clear signals as to the workings of the legislation in the future. In our opinion, the signals are not encouraging. In his fifth annual Report to Parliament Commission Chairman, Julian Johnson, had this to say: "... Over the past four years the Commission has made several recommendations for amendments to the Act and the First Schedule thereto ... for the efficient discharge of the prescribed functions under the Act. These recommendations are detailed in the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 Annual Reports to Parliament. No action has been taken by the Executive to place before Parliament any amendments ... repeated requests for discussion/dialogue on these related matters have not been given due attention."
Chairman Johnson continued: "It is with the greatest diffidence and reluctance that I again urge the Government of Dominica to give due consideration to those recommendations from the Commission and to the issues raised by me in the Chairman's Letter of Transmittal to the Minister in these Reports. He concluded: "It is my honest hope that the Government of Dominica will accede to this final appeal for consultation on the deficiencies in the existing legislation and for changes in the anti-corruption regime in order to deal comprehensively with probity, integrity and accountability in public life in the Commonwealth of Dominica".
The I.P.O Act was passed under the Pierre Charles Administration. It took five years for the succeeding Administration to put the legislation into effect. Two main explanations were given for the delay. One was that Government did not have the financial resources required to implement the legislation. The other was that, before putting the Act into effect, certain amendments needed to be made. Both explanations were dismissed by the general public as mere excuses. There was an outcry from opposition politicians, as well as from civil society. Then, and only then, the Act was put into effect.
When the workings of the Act are examined within the context of such delay. When attention is drawn to the "cloudy" provisions of the Act, discussed earlier. Taking account of the legislation's record of performance in six years. And when the above-mentioned concerns of the Integrity Commission are taken into account. The question, then, is whether the I.P.O law will in practice become an instrument for the prevention and eradication of unethical behaviour and corrupt practices from within the ranks of our public service? Or, will the legislation, like many others before it, remain in the words of one renowned English playwright, a toothless document "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".
(Dr. William E. Riviere is an Attorney-at-Law)
Copyright © William Para Riviere, August 2014.