by Alick Lazare

Corruption exists in all walks of life – in personal relations, private business and in public administration. In more advanced societies, in most cases, there are established codes of business and professional ethics that to some extent manage the incidence of corruption in the private sector. In the public service, there have always been strict codes of conduct especially regarding the management of public goods and money. However, prior to 2003, these codes applied only to civil servants. 

During the colonial period and until recent times it was assumed that members of executive and legislative councils and, later, members of parliament were men of sterling character and that there was no need for specific codes to guide their conduct in public life. Political representation in public service was left to be regulated by the ballot box.

This perception changed when international surveillance revealed how prevalent corruption was in global transactions including international trade, development financing and grants and other forms of international relations. The pervasiveness of this malaise was found to be especially acute internally in some developing countries.

Studies have shown how damaging corruption can be to development and welfare especially in vulnerable countries. One estimate points to a loss of as much as five per cent of gross domestic product due to corrupt transactions. Since the beneficiaries of corrupt transactions generally, to avoid discovery and interception, transfer their gains outside their home country, the loss in many ways affects every citizen of that country, especially those in the poorest group. Furthermore, the corrosive effect of corruption reaches into the fabric of society to erode important principles of social equity, human rights, and fair opportunity for every citizen, especially the poor and underprivileged.

In response to this growing concern, western democracies adopted first the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption in 1997 and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in 2003. Dominica acceded to both conventions in 2004 and 2010, respectively. In doing so it undertook to prevent corruption in all its forms in its jurisdiction.

What then is corruption? We generally think of corruption as involving some form of illegal or illicit financial transaction like theft, graft, fraud, bribery, and similar offences. But there are other forms of corruption not generally acknowledged that are equally damaging and corrosive such as conflict of interest, the abuse of power or authority, faithlessness in upholding confidentiality obligations, discrimination, and partiality in the distribution of public goods and benefits, and other types of unethical conduct. We can determine for ourselves what is corrupt or unethical by asking ourselves is it legal, is it right and how would it be judged if it were made public?

Dominica enacted legislation (The Integrity in Public Office Act 2003) to institute an Integrity Commission that would uphold integrity and accountability in public matters. It was expected that this measure would help to enhance public confidence in the way government conducted its business and improve public perception of the quality of ethical conduct among public officials, including ministers and other members of parliament.

Before this Act, ethical conduct in the civil service was regulated through statutes which included a Finance and Audit Act and Regulations and more recent versions of them that set out rules for transacting in public finance and procurement of goods and services and for properly accounting for them; and personnel codes called General Orders that set standards for the conduct of civil servants. While these acts, regulations and orders were effective in nurturing a civil service that was by and large above suspicion (except in very few cases), they did not extend to other persons who exercised public authority and persons outside the civil service who might have been complicit in acts of corruption, such as the givers of bribes or accomplices in fraud.

The Integrity in Public Office Act brought within its ambit not only civil servants, but also other persons identified as being persons in public life. It also established a quasi-judicial body, the Integrity Commission, with powers to investigate complaints about persons in public life who are alleged to be involved in acts of corruption, to enquire into any allegation of bribery, and to enforce financial disclosure through annual declarations by each of such persons.

While, within recent times, the focus has been on the Integrity Commission as the body charged with preventing corruption and bringing to justice persons in public life who breach the code of conduct set out in the Act, there are other important and vital oversight bodies whose work is not only complementary, but also supportive of the function assigned to the commission. Without the effective functioning of the offices of the Accountant General, the Director of Audit, the Financial Intelligence Unit and the Public Service Commission especially, the task of preventing corruption in all its forms can hardly be accomplished fully in the public service. This view is supported by a recent paper on Australia’s approach to fighting corruption:

Australia’s anti-corruption system is made up of various laws that promote transparency and accountability, as well as an inter-locking framework of government agencies that safeguard integrity, for instance Ombudsmen’s offices that handle public complaints, Auditors-General who assure financial accountability, and Public Service Standards Commissioners who promote ethical conduct among civil servants. Our system also includes strong and innovative laws that directly combat corrupt conduct by facilitating its detection, criminal investigation and punishment.2

The role of the public service unions in representing on matters of civil service appointments, rewards and discipline can also serve to ensure equity and impartiality, and to guard against patronage and victimization wherever it occurs.

Dominica has done moderately well by international standards in maintaining a respectable position in the international corruption index. It scored 55 out of 100 on the 2019 index. Nonetheless, this is a significant decline from where we were, 59 points out of 100 points, in 2016. This is cause for concern especially as public disquiet about transparency and accountability in the administration of some government programmes has become more strident and problematic. For instance, public discourse points to faults in the management of the CBI programme which seems to have left wide avenues open for uncertainty and suspicion.

Perceptions of corruption can be as damaging as corruption itself and should be eliminated if actions by public servants are consistently transparent and accountable as to avoid public uncertainty and suspicion. The public has a right to expect that high ethical and professional standards are manifest in the administration of public business and it is in the national interest to transparently uphold the resolution made by us in the Declaration to the Constitution that asserts respect for the principles of social justice and demands that the operation of the economic system should result in so distributing the material resources of the community as to subserve the common good.

2Australia’s Approach to Fighting Corruption: The Case of ACLEI by Nicholas Sellars, Ag. Director of Research and Policy.

Our system of government and the good practice of its administration must give comfort and assurance to all our citizens that governance in public affairs is beyond reproach and above suspicion.

About the author:

Alick Lazare is a former Financial Secretary, and Fiscal Consultant, Dominica. He is also a poet and the author of two novels, Pharcel: Runaway Slave and Kalinago Blood.

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