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LEFT OF CENTRE: Accountability to the electorate

Lisa Gale

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Integrity legislation tends to be the buzzword whenever there are concerns about financial mismanagement or when the assets of high profile private/public sector officials are called into question.
But what exactly does this term mean, who should be subject to it and why is it so important?
Integrity is a concept of consistency in one’s actions, values, methods, principles and outcome.
It means honesty and truthfulness in one’s actions. When persons are called into senior private/public sector positions, they may be exposed to entities whose actions and values are inconsistent and impure.
Integrity legislation may help to stem the temptation to become involved in corrupt activities as officials would be required to declare their assets upon assuming office and/or follow a particular line of behaviour.
This would ensure that any accusations of financial wrongdoing or otherwise could be evaluated, whether against the assets they came to office with or the new behaviours.
Asking officials to declare their assets is a subject that is sure to evoke quite a bit of emotion as their right to privacy is called into question. At what point does their business become the public’s right to know?
By accepting senior private/public roles, officials are placed into positions of trust and, as such, there should be accountability to the people who have placed them there.
In the Barbados case, enactment of integrity legislation has been touted at various times in history; however, we have yet to enact it and make it law. While it has been looked at for those in political life to bring more transparency and accountability to their roles, the question is whether those in senior public and private sector positions should also be subjected to such scrutiny.
Given our social partnership construct in Barbados which is intended to have a defining impact on the economic and social fabric of Barbados, the key officials in that process should be subject to some level of scrutiny – be it public officials, private sector officials or unions.
My position is that more accountability and transparency is needed from all of our leaders regardless of which office they sit. This expectation is also for those in the pulpit but this goes without saying.
It can be argued that there is no need to enact integrity legislation as Barbados ranked 15 in 2012 in the corruption perception index done by Transparency International, ahead of all of its CARICOM partners.
We should not rest on our laurels but strive to continuously improve ourselves and our reputation. As a net food, investment and technological importer, we need to fare well in the eyes of those looking on.    
Some would argue that the enactment of this legislation is not a precursor to a country’s corruption perception, as various islands across the Caribbean have the legislation but are still not ranked as high on the index as Barbados.
I would counter-argue that knowing this legislation is in place may serve as a useful deterrent to officials keen on underhanded activities and reassure a wary public.
It is my position that this legislation is critical and must be enacted. But first of all, it must be well thought out, managed and carefully implemented. Those policing it must be educated on the subject to ensure that people’s rights are not infringed and that any financial or other irregularities are swiftly dealt with. This sets a wholesome precedent.
• Lisa Gale is executive director of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry.