Sun | Aug 25, 2019

Editorial | Reconfiguring the Integrity Commission

Published:Wednesday | August 14, 2019 | 12:24 AM

Muzzled by the law, they can’t say. But it is not beyond contemplation that, given the many scandals that engulf it, the education ministry, and officials thereof, present and former, are being investigated by the Integrity Commission.

It is quite likely that any such probe will have been informed, in part, by the recent investigation of the ministry by the Auditor General’s Department. In that event, Dr Dean-Roy Bernard, the ministry’s former permanent secretary, who now has a case against the Government for his removal from the job, would most probably be among the persons whose conduct would be subject to the commission’s examination.

Indeed, on Sunday, Dr Bernard used this newspaper for a robust defence of his stewardship at the ministry, including his role in the award of contracts relating to the Caribbean Maritime University, which is at the centre of corruption scandals that brought down former education minister Ruel Reid and the sidelining of the school’s president, Fritz Pinnock.

Dr Bernard’s action has, in effect, brought him in direct dispute with the auditor general, Pamela Monroe Ellis, as would be expected of someone who claims to have been falsely accused of “opaque” behaviour in circumstances that demanded transparency. We make no declaration on either the auditor general’s findings or Dr Bernard’s defence, but the issue highlights the potential for conflict of interest relating to Mrs Monroe Ellis and her membership of the Integrity Commission.

We make two points. First, as a legal or moral construct, a conflict of interest is not only that someone acts on a presumed bias. It is enough, in some circumstances, for there to be perceived, or potential, bias and the possibility that it may be acted on. They may be sufficient for an arbitrator to recuse himself.

Second, as we have said in the past, this newspaper has absolutely no doubt about the integrity of Mrs Monroe Ellis or the integrity with which she has run her shop. Indeed, her office’s role as part of the apparatus for holding public officials and agencies to account for their management of taxpayers’ resources has been enhanced under her leadership.

We, nonetheless, adhere to the adage that justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done, which is in danger of being impaired – as we raised before – by the requirement, by law, that the auditor general be a member of the Integrity Commission. In other words, this isn’t specifically about Mrs Monroe Ellis, as some have sought to make it, but of the office itself and, therefore, anyone who occupies it.

INHERENT BIAS

As a member of the Integrity Commission, work done by the auditor general, in this case Mrs Monroe Ellis, could percolate upwards to the Integrity Commission for further investigation and, possibly, criminal prosecution. There is not an unreasonable argument that the auditor general, whoever that person is, will have an inherent bias in favour of findings previously made by his/her office, which may be in contradiction to any position reached by the Integrity Commission’s staff. The auditor general, on the basis of the law, is placed in an invidious position.

In any event, it is just good sense for the auditor general – whoever commands that post – to continue not only with the independence conferred by the Constitution and subsidiary law, but without any concern for the demands of any other agency to which he/she may be asked to be committed, and the encumbrances and politics that may be associated therewith.

That is why we suggest that, in addition to the list of proposed adjustments to the law made by the Integrity Commission, Parliament should remove the requirement that the auditor general be among its members. This is not about Mrs Monroe Ellis.