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The political high road
Professor Eric St Cyr’s decision to recuse himself from participating in the Integrity Commission’s deliberations on a potential conflict of interest matter in the award of an NP contract was unquestionably the correct thing to have done and the only unassailable course of action consistent with his appointment as head of the Integrity Commission. It is a matter of public record as well as public concern that St Cyr unwisely offered an opinion on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s decision to stay with friends after winning the 2010 election.
When the company owned by those friends was selected for a service and supply contract with NP, replacing a long standing incumbent company, query flags were raised about the process and the possibility of political influence in the decision. The Integrity Commission head notoriously suggested that the whole matter could have been avoided if the Prime Minister had stayed in a hotel after the elections. Senior legal counsel have since weighed in on one aspect of the matter, agreeing that the Prime Minister’s stay cannot be described as a gift under the terms of the Integrity in Public Life Act.
Senior counsel also agreed that the only way forward for the Integrity Commissioner would be for him to recuse himself from any future review of the matter. The Integrity Commission is still to formally undertake a review of the case after a request by PNM Senator Fitzgerald Hinds to probe the matter. In deciding to distance himself from any role in the Integrity Commission’s probe into the award of the contract by NP to Gopaul and Company, the learned professor should not simply decline to vote on the matter, but should take specific care to take no part at all in any aspect of the review of the case, as suggested by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan at Thursday’s post-Cabinet press conference.
St Cyr should make it abundantly clear that he will be absenting himself from such deliberations to underline quite clearly that he would not be in a position to guide or influence the review process of the probe. This is not a simple point of order, but an essential clarification of the underlying responsibility for upholding accountability and transparency in public office that is embedded in the DNA of the Integrity Commission itself.
Meaningful parallels for such a position can be drawn with the decision by the Attorney General’s laudable decision to assemble his own probe team to review the NP matter absent the resources of the Ministry of Energy, and to compose a team, the public should quite rightly expect, of independent, knowledgeable energy industry observers and participants. In last Sunday’s editorial, it was suggested that the Integrity Commission engage with dispatch in the creation of a handbook outlining best practices for procedure and protocols for procurement and the offering of private services to Government that would clarify the increasingly muddy waters of public sector bidding.
There have been too many decisions made recently on critical matters of public sector governance that have been called into question, some of them quite justifiably, because of lapses of due diligence and proper procedure. Such a handbook would serve to set out methodologies that could be readily understood and adhered to by politicians keen to advance their projects, public service employees seeking clearer rules for the execution of their duties and private sector companies keen to offer their services to the Government.
When it comes to matters of accountability and transparency in public office, politicians and the members of the Integrity Commission should, when faced with options for action, be able to clearly choose a course of action that eliminates second guessing and doubt. The Integrity Commission should examine the current state of play in governance and step up to create a document that maps, quite clearly, the high road for all participants in the governance and execution of the nation’s business.
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