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Fiscal integrity in public life

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Sacred

Fiscal Integrity, among all pubic officials, in the discharge of their public duties is sacred. Nothing less will do. The public perception, however, exists that there is a lack of Fiscal Integrity in Government particularly in developing nations. The former British Cabinet Minister for Trade and Industry and then CEO of Cable & Wireless, Lord Young, claimed in a stinging indictment in a BBC television programme in 1994 that there were many countries where corruption practices are endemic and even cultural.{{more}} He then warned that “Britain must be very careful not to insist that our practices of transparent Government be followed everywhere in the world”.

Accountable Government

The Nobel Laureate Oscar Aries Sanchez, noted that, “Public demonstrations for more accountable Government the world over are essentially driven by anger over corruption … corruption which spreads like a cancer to kill all that is decent in society”. Though countries in the Commonwealth Caribbean bear no semblance to many in Sub Saharan Africa, Asia and even Eastern Europe where corruption is concerned, we must be eternally vigilant to keep Fiscal Integrity at the heart of all that is done by public officials.

Public Discussions for Bills

The proposed “Integrity in Public Life Bill 2006 and the Prevention of Corruption Bill 2006” are steps in the right direction. The debate on the Bills should not be confined to the walls of Parliament but must reach out into the towns, villages, hamlets and communities throughout St. Vincent and the Grenadines like the Constitutional Reform discussions. After all, transparency and accountability are minimum basic requirements where monies from the people’s purse are being spent. Without question, it goes to the root of good governance and ensuring public trust.

A Third World example

The example provided by Singapore could serve the Third World well. There, the Corruption Practices Investigation Bureau investigates all cases of reasonably perceived corruption. The result is a vast reduction of corruption in public life. That country was ranked by Transparency International as the least corrupt in Asia time and again. Our Bills provide a wonderful opportunity for us to say what controls, checks and balances we want in the spending of our money. No doubt, generally speaking, strict and transparent accountability of all revenue and expenditure is the object of the Bills. Indeed, it is the only way to win the public trust.

The Test

Across the centuries, Kings, Queens, Emperors, Prime Ministers and Heads of States have had to deal with the perennial question of how to monitor and preserve Fiscal Integrity in Public Life? It is no easy question with easy solutions. The test will be, can we give “teeth” to a potentially hard biting law on the statute book? You must agree – if you have integrity there will be no terror or fear from any law even with the teeth of shark.

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