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      The British Virgin Islands       OnePaper Community Edition       November 21st, 2018      
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Integrity in Public Life

      Integrity in Public Life
      A Civil Servant Perspective
     Good evening ladies and gentlemen, fellow civil servants, colleagues, other panelist. -When I was asked to be part of a panel discussion on ‘Integrity in Public Life -A Civil, Servants Perspective.' At first I was very apprehensive, because sometimes one finds one's self in a position of having to decide whether he ought to make public his opinions or keep them to himself here in this very sensitive community.
     After giving it some thought I said to myself, what the hell, what do have to loose. So here I am ready and willing to discuss the topic of Integrity in Public Life A Public Servant Perspective.
     Ladies and Gentlemen my name is Wendell M. Gaskin and I am presently serving as the Director of Internal Audit Unit under the Ministry of Finance, Economics and Development Planning, and I have worked for the Government well over twenty (20) years. 1, therefore, believe that my years of on the job experience and training in the area of accounting puts me in a position to make a significant contribution to this discussion.
     While we have not actually conducted any extensive studies from my offices as the Director of Internal Audit and President of the Civil Service Association I believe that from this vantage point we can make the claim that public life holds good for local Government. Despite instances of corruption and misbehavior, the vast majority of civil servants and public officers observe high standards of conduct and integrity. The number of people who have used their position or office in local government for ends is small compared with the majority who genuinely wish to serve this community and country.
     Integrity in Public Life. What is integrity? To begin with, we must ask the basic question ‘Is integrity necessary for Public Life?'
     Integrity can be of different types. We can have intellectual integrity, financial integrity, moral integrity etc. What we expect when we use the term integrity is a certain amount of consistency and fairness. In the case of intellectual integrity it means that the person does not change his views or perception depending upon the circumstances or external considerations. On the same lines, moral integrity would mean observing the same principles irrespective of the situation. In the case of financial integrity, it will mean that one does not aspire for somebody's else's money or property. After all corruption is the use of public office for private profit. Corruption definitely is an example of lack of integrity.
     2 Transparency can be a guarantee for integrity. Transparency means that everything is visible and therefore one can make a judgement about the issues involved. If one is transparent in financial matters, automatically there will be greater integrity. In fact, in recent years, corporate governance has become a major issue of concern especially in the context of globalization. When foreign direct investment takes place, the investors want to be sure not only that the management of resources will be done competently by the enterprises in which they invest, but also ensure that the decision making will be on ethical principles. ‘Honesty is the best policy' used to be an old statement but then there is an increasing realization that the honesty may be the best policy for even profitability.
     3 When it comes to moral conduct, transparency is the best guarantee for consistency and integrity Perhaps the best example of transparency is the life of Mahatma Gandhi who practiced what he preached. His whole life was an experiment with truth as he himself described it in his autobiography. We can therefore appreciate the linkage between transparency and integrity. If we want greater integrity, I think transparency can be a means of achieving the objective.
     4 To begin with we must ask the basic question ‘Is integrity necessary for public life?' There have been thinkers like Machiavelli in the West and the Kautilya in the East who felt that the moral standards prescribed for a private individual cannot be applied when one deals with public life. There has been the traditional joke that the Ambassadors are those who are sent abroad to lie for their country. Nevertheless, it is being realised increasingly that in a democracy there is need for greater transparency to have credibility. We have seen for example in the United States how the intimate details of the private lives of Presidents are scrutinized because their private lives may have a bearing on public conduct. Even if we agree for a moment with both Machiavelli and Kautilya that the moral standards for public
     life are different from that of private life, the fact should not be lost sight of that ultimately the private conduct affects public decisions and hence must be looked into.
     5 That brings me really to the basic issue of the dynamics of integrity and transparency in public life and business. There are three factors, which affect the level of integrity and transparency in public life. The first of course is the individual's sense of values. A person who has high moral standards is bound to take decisions, which are also in the public interest. Of course, in his book on diplomacy, Kissinger traced how there have been two broad approaches to handling international relations. When Metternich worked out the Treaty of Versailles at -the end of the Napoleonic wars, it was the principle of balance of forces that prevailed. But, when Woodrow Wilson came on the scene at the end of the First World War, values and ideals also got injected into decision making and framing policies to govern diplomatic relations. We are today living in the post-Cold War era where issues like the non-exploitation of children or observing human rights are increasingly becoming part of international debates whether it relates to politics or economics. [N. Vittal]
     Corruption in the context of today's column is defined as the abuse of public office for private gain. It is a plague that attacks many countries. The potential to adversely affect the economy may easily erupt as a result. Certainly, the BVI is not immune and should continue to ensure that we do not succumb to this plague. Historically, we have had our share of scandals in government. However, citizens are not tolerant of corruption and vehemently object to it in all forms in our political system. Or so one would hope.
     When one looks at contracts and associated investment projects, the public service can easily be a breeding ground for corruption if not executed properly. Improper methods of handling such will lead to excessive public expenditure and misuse of resources. Removing discretionary powers of certain governmental authorities will aid in reducing the potential for corruption. Further, we need to put in place and enforce policies and legislation which are counterculture to corruption. We must continue to find ways of addressing corruption, if it exists.
     When we recognize that corruption is not something that happens to governments alone, but to the entire society because we pay, we will be able to beat it. Public attention to corruption has increased significantly, causing taxpayers to question what is happening with their money. They demand transparency. There is a lot of discussion about corruption and people want to ensure that it does not persist.
     Bribery, cronyism, and rigged procurement are all forms of corruption. These things are not acceptable. The BVI cannot afford this and is not tolerant of any such acts by public officials. In many of our neighboring countries, there have been scandals far in excess of ours, which often implicate the plague of corruption. Is there such a thing as 'good corruption?' Some individuals believe that there can be 'good corruption'. This is absolute rubbish. Looking at the Haitian economy clearly shows that corruption is not good. This inclusive of the political circumstance was the major factor in the demise of this economy. Corruption infiltrated its way to high places.
     Corruption impacts all of us. Our socioeconomic background does not preclude the reach of this plague. However, it is the poor who are hurt the most, because the availability of funds from the government to assist can be greatly diminished. They are deleteriously impacted and this translates into every strata of their lives. What government can offer job opportunities, or create the environment for such, when there is rampant corruption. There is a relationship which exists between fighting corruption and poverty reduction. If we are able to reduce the level of corruption, we lower the poverty level. This has been a statistic that was presented by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
     Citizens do not pay taxes with the intent of that money ending up in an offshore bank account. We have a right as citizens to ensure that there are appropriate checks and balances in our fiscal system of government, which ensures that corrupt practices are minimized, if not eradicated. What is the public entitled to expect from their leaders? If the leaders are not seen as having integrity themselves, the integrity is not an end in itself; rather, it is a path leading to the delivery to the public of the services they are entitled to receive from those who govern them.
     There are seven relevant principles to which we ought to hold our leaders to during their term of Public Office.These include:
     Accountability, Honesty, Integrity, Objectivity, Openness, Selflessness, and Leadership. [John G. F. Carey].
     The establishment and maintenance of integrity in public life and public service requires a number of elements, including: legislation, regulations and codes of conduct; a society whose religious, political and social values expect honesty from politicians and officials; professionalism among officials; and a political leadership with the moral and political courage and will to take its responsibility, both public and private, seriously.
     We've Got Work To DO.
      The Seven Principles of Public Life
     Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
     Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
     Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organizations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
     In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
     Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
     Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
     Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
     Taken from: (Standards in Public Life)

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