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RIGHT OF CENTRE: Integrity crucial, especially now

Andrea Taylor

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Barbados has long been regarded as a well-governed society. The 2012 report from Transparency International rated Barbados as having the lowest perceived level of corruption in the Caribbean.
The report, which gives countries higher scores for lower levels of perceived public sector corruption, also ranked Barbados at 15th in the world, an improvement from 16th in the prior year.
Though such achievements speak positively to the governance in the country, a realization of 15th in the world supports the view that the country cannot rest on its laurels. Further improvement is necessary to ensure better performance in the mitigation of corruption not only in the public but also the private sector.
The recent debate in Barbados’ Parliament on anti-corruption legislation is therefore a step in the right direction and needs to be taken to its natural conclusion. There remain, however, three critical points of consideration in this debate.
Firstly, public life legislation must have its foundation in appropriate behavioural change. It is therefore posited that citizens will need to undergo the necessary training and education to ensure that the cultural changes are realized to support public life legislation.
The facts are that workers in the public and private sectors should be acclimatized to understand and apply codes of conduct and support conflict of interest declaration as a way of life. The prevailing negative view of integrity within Government and society shows clearly that the attribution could be traced to the decaying morals, ethics and the poor relationship that exists between institutions and citizens.
Secondly, public life legislation needs to go beyond politicians to include public sector workers. Transparency International suggests, in its 2012 release, “Corruption destroys lives and communities, and undermines countries and institutions. It generates popular anger that threatens to further destabilize societies and exacerbate violent conflicts.”
When one thinks about the role of integrity, especially in those with senior positions in Government, it should be clear that the level of accountability must be transparent.
Public employment involves positions of trust; therefore public officials are expected to act in the public’s interest and demonstrate ethical behaviour in carrying out their official duties.
This ethical behaviour is critical for democracy, particularly in an environment of greater choice and discretion in decision-making. Therefore, persons who assist in the stewardship of resources, perform policymaking functions and interact with citizens must act above board.
Their ethical conduct helps to guard against the abuse of power and the derogation of due process, and assists in maintaining confidence in the many offices of Government.
Thirdly, public life legislation must go beyond politicians and public servants to include private sector executives. This is particularly critical in publicly traded companies where a higher level of trust and transparency is needed to protect the interest of citizens.
To maintain public confidence in the integrity of the private sector, it is essential that these private sector executives exhibit, and are seen to exhibit, the highest ethical standards in carrying out their duties.
This is more critical in the current business environment of failed companies and corporate scandals that have not only eroded the confidence of investors but have seen many economies, industrialized and developing, challenged with introducing stabilization strategies to improve their economies as a result of the impact of such crises.
The recent discourse on ethics and integrity has therefore underscored the need for a more serious approach to issues of governance and transparency. The facts suggest that this must go beyond the politician to include those in leadership in our public and private sectors.
• Andrea Taylor is business operations manager at the Barbados Small Business Association.