Measures to enhance ethics and accountability must feature prominently as part of the agenda for institutional and civil service reform in Dominica. In recent years, the debate on and efforts to curb ethical violations and enforcement of accountability framework has intensified in the Caribbean mainly due to four reasons:
i. The increase in the incidence of unethical practices and lack of accountability in governance and the public sector;
ii. The wave of political liberalization, that engulfed most of the Caribbean since post-independence, which has emboldened a budding civil society into demanding greater enforcement of ethical standards and the punishment of violators;
iii. A growing recognition that unethical practices have contributed to the economic difficulties that many Caribbean countries face; and
iv. The pressure exerted by international donors requiring stricter adherence by Caribbean countries to good governance and the curtailment of waste and the squandering of resources.
The lack of accountability, unethical behavior, and corrupt practices have become pervasive. Traditionally accepted customs and tested institutionalized norms of behavior have been cast aside, to the extent that one may conveniently speak of a crisis of ethics in Caribbean public governance. Reality dictates that the region has lost the ability to secure and /or take advantage of economic opportunities. Of course, the situation is worse in some countries like Dominica compared to others. Common manifestations of this plight include bad governance, bribery, cheating corruption, patronage, nepotism, fraud, embezzlement, influence peddling, abuse of authority for self-enrichment, bestowing of favors on friends and relatives, moonlighting, partiality, absenteeism, tardiness, abuse of public property, leaking and/or abuse of government information, etc. All of the above has a significant negative impact on productivity; the responsiveness and transparency of governments and the efficiency of the public service.
Dealing successfully with this phenomenon requires a deeper understanding of its underlying causes. Various authors have attempted to give a plausible explanation for the problem but they often single out one dimension or another as being the most crucial factor. Clearly, the matter is not that simple. It is a multidimensional problem with deep roots in political, cultural, and economic circumstances.
For the most part, recruitment into the civil service has been and still is very much influenced by patronage and socio-political factors, primordial loyalties, personal relations, and commitments of public officials rather than the requirements of impartial professionalism. The Integrity in Public Office (IPO) legislation, which established the Integrity Commission once provided a glimmer of hope in addressing the principles underlying this enigma. Unfortunately, the subservience of the Commission to the governing executive has voided its effectiveness in being a professionally functioning, objective, and impartial body as per its intended design. The sprawling nature of the state, its over-extended control over all spheres of the society have created greater opportunities for abuse and self-enrichment of public officials.- precisely what the Integrity Commission was supposed to have been empowered to address.
The issue of whether the economic crisis is the cause or effect of the ethical crisis in the Caribbean is debatable. Nevertheless, one is of the opinion that while the two crises are no doubt mutually reinforcing, the rapid deterioration of economic conditions experienced by most Caribbean countries since the 1980s has further emboldened public office holders, both politicians, and administrators, to seek and obtain rewards in exchange for their services. This has weakened their aversion and moral abhorrence to such practices.
Can the Situation be remedied?
Repeated attempts have been made over the years to combat corrupt practices and unethical conduct. A common feature of those is the enactment of codes and the establishment of institutional mechanisms to enforce ethical behavior. These codes have not been ‘to date’ applied or enforced by the IPO and its commissioner! In fact, the government in Dominica has taken active steps to undermine and weaken the Integrity Commission. The framework needs to be further enhanced by establishing Special Penal Code provisions that deal with sanctions and consequences of the breach of public trust against the interest of the state. These provisions should govern, inter-alia, the receipt of ill-gotten gains, misuse, abuse or waste of public property, forgery of public documents, corrupt practices, and use of one’s public position for self-enrichment.
The Integrity Commission ‘WAS’ established to ensure a comprehensive agenda to promote ethics and accountability in contemporary Dominican public services, as it was clearly defined in the original drafts, clearly outlined, and it ought to comprise of the following:
· Fostering and promoting enabling conditions of service to enhance professional and ethical standards;
· Advancing and affirming sound policies on recruitment, training, and public personnel management;
· Encouraging public service associations to play a catalytic role in institutionalizing professional values and defending occupational interest;
· Promoting psychology of service in political and public life creating, strengthening, and upholding the integrity and effectiveness of public institutions of accountability;
· Cutting down on excessive centralization and bureaucratization;
· Enacting, improving, and effectively enforcing legal instruments, codes of conduct, and regulations promoting ethics and accountability;
· Establishing coalitions of business associations and civil society to expose and fight corruption;
· Mass education campaigns on the extent and cost of corruption and unethical behavior.
The systematic and impartial prosecution of violators;
· Engaging the people in democratic constitution-making to reconstruct and reconstitute the neocolonial state, especially the institutional environment.
Fostering popular participation to ensure responsiveness, accountability, and transparency of governance;
· Enactment and strengthening of anti-corruption legislation with a “Clearance Certificate” against Corruption by public officials.
The current provisions of the IPO Act are ineffective and do not aggressively address certain unethical conduct and malfeasance. The government must make every effort to establish the Office of the Ombudsman as mandated by our Constitution. Along with this is the need to ensure a well-functioning Pubic Complaints Committee to investigate complaints against public officials, as well as a functioning Public Accounts Committee (PAC) with sufficient investigatory powers to effectively oversee the expenditure of public funds. How about a Working People’s Control Committee and a court with special jurisdiction – “Special Court” to try offenses related to exploitations, waste, abuse of authority, corrupt practice, and favoritism by governance? How about a Commission for Enforcement of the Leadership Code and Permanent Commission of Enquiry, or was this all to fall under the portfolio of the Integrity Commission? Similar bodies have been established in other Caribbean countries. In most cases, these initiatives will be partially successful in achieving some of the immediate objectives behind these measures. However, this has not been generally the case in other developing countries. More crucial has been the fact that the incidence of ethical misconduct has increased even in countries where a large number of violators have been investigated and/or punished. The salient questions remain: why have these measures been generally unsuccessful in developing countries? Given the extent of the malaise of unethical conduct and the hitherto limited success in dealing with it, is it realistic to expect that this situation can be remedied by politicians who continue to benefit from the status quo?
In the first instance, these measures have failed because they were introduced in an overall political and policy environment that was not sufficiently conducive to enable the success of the measures. When grand corruption is rampant at the top level of government and politics, the nature of governance has basically remained undemocratic and unaccountable. Where a system of patronage remains intact, one can hardly expect to enforce measures against unethical behavior with a degree of seriousness, or that the enforcement systems and institutions will be left to function without interference. Thus, the commitment at the highest political level is a critical prerequisite for any successful drive to curb and punish ethical offenders. Secondly, the measures that have been introduced have been partial in nature, focusing mainly on sanctions, not cause. Thirdly, many of the institutions that were established to promote ethics and accountability often lacked the resources, public visibility, impartiality, and public support that are critical for their success.
The enormity of the task to deal with corrupt practices and to promote ethics and accountability in our public service is not to be underestimated. In spite of setbacks to be expected and experienced in this regard, it is still possible to score gains in a meaningful manner. Central to this is the need for the dedicated and sustained implementation of comprehensive, broad-based, and self-reinforcing measures – and not merely partial solutions – by the government and the public to deal with the multi-dimensional nature of the problem, within the framework of democratic, responsive, transparent and accountable governance.
This last element of the comprehensive agenda deserves further mention. Even the best of safeguards and practices under democratic systems of governance can give way to abuses — as the experience of developed countries like Dominica have repeatedly demonstrated.
For this reason, a crucial safeguard of high standards of public ethics and accountability in Dominica has to fall on the ability of the citizens and people’s organizations and associations to hold public officials and politicians accountable for their acts and also to ensure that public institutions fulfill their functions properly and responsibly. The ongoing process of political-institutional reforms in Dominica should enhance such opportunities if we adopt the principles of its necessity.
Finally, the international dimension to the ethical crisis ought not to be neglected. Bribery of public officials, particularly in the developing world has often been used as a fair and legitimate method of business. Many governments in industrialized countries ignore bribery, some openly promote it and a few even make it tax-deductible. Therefore, in order to effectively deal with corruption in developing countries like Dominica, there is an urgent need to take decisive enforcement action against unethical behavior at the international level in dealing with matters such as money laundering, illegal trading, human trafficking, and the sale of diplomacy status.
In recent years, Transparency International has been playing an appreciable role in raising the alarm about international corruption and demanding that action be taken to remedy it. Any meaningful progress in this direction, however, requires agreement on and the strict enforcement of international conventions and treaties to punish the perpetrators. It would also be necessary to strengthen the international integrity systems, establish disclosure of foreign accounts laws; and an effective system of repatriation of ill-gotten wealth. The international community is, however, far from any consensus on this, which makes it unlikely to institute such measures.
A Qualified opinion