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Let us begin to clean our political slate

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The nature of governance grows out of and relates to our political culture. It is something we have to continually assess. This should concern all Vincentians, regardless of where they position themselves with regard to the political fence. Let me say upfront that one cannot talk about any period where concerns and questions were not raised. There is no ideal period to turn to, the colonial period itself being riddled with contradictions.{{more}} At Independence, rather than cleaning the political slate, we have simply embraced what was there and added to it. It is no longer the colonial elite that are presiding over an entity with serious shortcomings, but our own local people now exercise control of the political structures that we have inherited but not bothered to transform. If we are to grow as a people, we have to start by cleaning up the mess.

Some time ago when Grenville Williams, the director of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), was questioned about the possibility of contesting a seat in the next general election, he was reported to have said that he was not then considering it, but that if he was to enter active politics it would have been on the side of the governing party. I felt then that he was treading on dangerous grounds, given the sensitivity of the position he holds. I thought too that his comment was irresponsible, but things have become even more alarming. Let me state clearly that I have nothing against Mr Williams. I do not even know him, although I might have seen him on at least one occasion. I understand that he has been performing adequately in his position as director of the Financial Intelligence Unit.

He is now battling to be the candidate for the South Leeward constituency. He has even had posters stating his intention. Recently, there has been some objection to him having posters around when he has not even been selected as the candidate. To dismiss the seriousness of this by simply suggesting that he will resign if selected, is to miss the point. I am not sure if the sensitive nature of the position he holds or the power he commands is fully understood. In fact, given the nature of his responsibilities, as a friend suggested, anyone who holds that position should not be allowed to contest an election until about two or three years after he has resigned from that position.

Issues of integrity and ethics will come into play. While I have heard no one question him in these areas, I believe that jumping into the political fray will raise serious questions and can compromise him and in the process tarnish his image. Why do I say all of this? The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) was set up under the Financial Intelligence Unit Act of 2001.” The director, the CEO of the FIU, has a very important, powerful and sensitive role as head of that body. What is the purpose of the FIU? It “… shall act as the agency responsible for receiving, analysing, obtaining and disseminating information which relates to or may relate to the proceeds of the offences created by the Proceeds of Crime and Money Laundering Prevention Act …to competent authorities including the Royal SVG Police Force…” What of the director? “…where it appears to the Director that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a relevant offence has been committed, the Director may require the production of such information (excluding information subjected to legal professional privilege) from financial institutions or a person engaged in a relevant business activity that the FIU considers necessary for the purpose of investigating the relevant offence.”

One can possibly say that if you are not engaged in any criminal activity then you have nothing to fear. First, it just has to appear to the director that there are reasonable grounds to be suspicious about any activity/transaction, then he can bring his powers to bear on the matter. He doesn’t, it would appear, have to get the OK from a magistrate or judge. Bank managers and personnel are at his call, even the Commissioner of Police, it appears. Suspicion is only suspicion! What happens if after examining the necessary documents/information, it is found that everything is legitimate and above board, what happens to that information? We can even accept this under normal circumstances, but it is a different ball game when that director enters partisan politics or declares his intention, particularly while still privy to that and other information.

To make matters worse, no action can be taken against him or any person acting under his direction for anything done or not done “in good faith”. This is powerful stuff which taxes one’s integrity to the fullest. My point is that once you get into politics, this could be destroyed or grave distrust can be created. Someone said it is like the Commissioner of Police while holding office declaring his intention to be a candidate at the next general election. Let me repeat again that I am not suggesting that Mr Williams has or will misuse his power, but things must not only be done properly, but appear to be and to this end all loopholes should be closed. No one holding that office should allow himself to be put in a position where he can easily compromise his integrity. He is, after all, human, subject to the frailties of human beings. Given the thrust and cut of our national politics as it is played out today, major challenges that would make enormous demands on any politician will arise. My concern is not about ‘the man’, but about the position he holds and the trend this can set.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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