Visit the Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica's Web Portal

Integrity/Probity in Public Life

Integrity and probity in public life are the standards that society expects those elected or appointed to public office to observe and maintain in the conduct of the public affairs to which they have been entrusted. These standards are what safeguard the nation from corruption by politicians and public officials who have been given almost unrestricted access to public resources together with the power to take decisions that impact on the lives of everyone and the nation as a whole. It follows that those in positions of power can use these positions to take decisions that are solely in the public interest or they can use them to benefit themselves, friends, and in the case of politicians, their party supporters to the exclusion of others. There is mounting evidence, documented by Transparency International among others, that given their privileged position those in power can and sometimes do inflict immense, often irreparable, damage on the country by acting in any other than in the public interest. This, essentially, is the rationale for the legislative and other measures that countries take to govern the behaviour of their public officials.

The absence of integrity and probity in public life is manifested in corruption which is a worldwide phenomenon. But its impact is strongest and most pervasive in small states that already suffer from all the known disadvantages that characterise smallness such as unfavourable economies of scale, high per capita cost of government, remoteness, and distance from large markets and centres of large populations among others. In addition to all these, small States also tend to suffer from ineffective parliamentary oversight, weak and undeveloped systems of checks and balances like a strong and independent media as well as civil society groups with the capacity to investigate, challenge and call to account those in positions of power. Leaders who are corrupt will exploit these weaknesses to the fullest to enrich themselves and those closest to them at the expense of the country.

The debilitating effects of corruption are well documented. For example for Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole the Inter-American Development Bank has estimated that on average some 10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is lost to corruption annually. In some countries this proportion has been estimated to be as high as one quarter (1/4). It is no wonder that both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have identified corruption as one of the main obstacles to development. It stultifies creativity, inventiveness and enterprise in a people, and puts a brake on the growth of democracy, all of which are essential conditions for development.

It cannot be assumed that all parliamentarians and other people in public life engage in corrupt practices; far from it. The vast majority of public officials both elected and appointed give sterling and dedicated service to the country. They keep alive and constantly seek to enrich the best traditions of selfless public service. These officials need to be encouraged and their contributions recognised. The best way to give such encouragement and recognition is to call to account those who will not play by the rules.

Rooting out corruption is not an easy task. It will not happen in one big swoop nor will it happen by legislation alone. It needs a national objective in which all the citizens, agencies and institutions must play their part. This means that Government, political parties, the private sector, civil society, religious leaders and, most importantly, the media need to work together to ensure that nothing but the highest standard of behaviour, accountability and transparency are tolerated in governance across all aspects of society. There needs to be something like a national crusade dedicated to the maintenance of a culture of decency and integrity in public life. Without that a small country like Dominica runs the risk of degenerating into a failed state because its democratic foundations will have been eroded, the rule of law compromised and offices of state and institutions undermined to the extent where they lose their legitimacy. In this situation, true, genuine and enlightened leadership will not emerge leaving the way open for unscrupulous leaders and their associates to manipulate an unsuspecting population and turn national assets into private wealth. Once corruption is allowed to take root it becomes increasingly difficult to eradicate because more and more of the population begin to see themselves as beneficiaries and they will want to keep things that way.

In its 2008 Global Corruption Report, Transparency International draws a link between poverty, failed institutions and graft:

"The continuing high levels of corruption and poverty plaguing many of the world’s societies amount to an ongoing humanitarian disaster and cannot be tolerated. Stemming corruption requires strong oversight through Parliament, law enforcement, independent media and a vibrant civil society. When these institutions are weak corruption spirals out of control with horrendous consequences for ordinary people and for justice ......"

(Transparency International 2008 Corruption Perception Index)

Special mention must be made of the private sector. In societies where a blind eye is turned to corruption elements in the private sector give bribes to those exercising power in order to curry favour. The giving and taking of bribes leads not only to personal enrichment but also to wrong decision-making with consequential misallocation of national resources into high profile "political" projects that will attract votes at the expense of less spectacular but economically and socially more useful ones. Development assistance provided by friendly donor governments and the donor community can also be misused in this way – for private gain or to confer an advantage to certain individuals or groups, or buy votes. The more reputable donor agencies, both official and private, are alive to this danger. That is why they put increasing emphasis on aid coordination and the sharing of information and experiences. They need to do more especially in terms of oversight of the behaviour of official agencies of donor countries and private corporations operating within their borders because regrettably, these are, themselves, sometimes party to corrupt behaviour, or they turn a blind eye, if not actively encourage it.

Integrity legislation is only part of the answer, albeit an important part. As Transparency International and the Commonwealth Secretariat have observed in the introduction to a recent joint study: "Questions of law are ultimately able to be resolved by the courts. Matters of ethics are, almost by definition, unable to be resolved by resort to rules of law". (Conflict of Interest: Legislators, Ministers, and Public Officials) The Dominica Integrity in Public Office Act includes three broad areas where an infringement could attract criminal proceedings, namely:

  1. Every person in public life is required to file with the Integrity Commission, within three months of the end of the financial year, a declaration setting out:
    1. his office or offices;
    2. his income assets and liabilities;
    3. the assets of his wife, children or relative acquired through or traceable to his income; and
    4. gifts made by him in value exceeding one thousand dollars.
  2. Every person in public life shall observe the body of rules known as the Code of Conduct, specified in the Second Schedule
    It is in the Code of Conduct that Parliament has set out in very clear terms the standard of behaviour expected of public officials in the performance of their public duties and the ethics and values that should govern that behaviour.
  3. Possession of Unaccountable Property

Parliament has made it an offence, under this provision of the Act for a person in public life to be found in possession of property or pecuniary resources disproportionate to his legitimate sources of income. (Sometimes referred to as illicit enrichment).

In all of these areas an infringement, or in the case of the Code of Conduct, a breach of the Code, is a criminal offence punishable by a fine or imprisonment, or both. But by itself legislation can only achieve so much. Integrity and probity in public life demand that those elected or appointed to public office are themselves imbued with a sense of responsibility to the society that puts them there; that the decisions they take should always be solely in terms of the public interest and not to gain benefits for themselves, family, friends or associates; that they act with honesty and integrity by not allowing their private interests to conflict with their public responsibilities; and that the behaviour must always be able to stand up to the closest public scrutiny. Similarly, civil society and institutions have a crucial role to play by calling to account those who will flout the rules and by refusing to tolerate any but the highest standard of behaviour in those who they elect or appoint to serve the public interest.

Please publish modules in offcanvas position.