Sunday, June 16, 2013

Guest Commentary: A secret commission?

by Ashvani Mahabir | Cunupia The Attorney General has exposed in the media what he calls a “secret” meeting between the Chairman of the Integrity Commission and the Leader of the Opposition, which took place at the home of the Commission’s Chairman and which bore proximity in time to a No Confidence Motion deliberated in the House. 

Not surprisingly, both parties to the reported meeting have stoutly defended what the AG has argued is a matter of grave concern and public disquiet.

As far as the Opposition Leader is concerned there was nothing “secret” about the meeting as he had “told the Parliament that I (he) communicated with the Integrity Commission before I brought the matter to Parliament”.

From a very strict layman’s perspective it would appear that the literal meaning of two terms come into question. In the first instance, what amounts to a “secret” meeting in the conduct of matters of national public interest and secondly who or what constitutes the “Commission”?

The Merriam-Webster online Dictionary defines secret as that which is “kept from knowledge or view” or “remote from human notice”. 

Applying this very basic definition, the question becomes whether the meeting in question was known to the public and whether it was conducted within the reasonable knowledge of civic society. Bear in mind that this is no meeting of the countryside football club, but of the Parliamentary Opposition Leader and the Chairman of an independent organization created by statute and which at all times must be insulated from any and all perceptions of political interference, bias or prejudice. 

The Leader of the Opposition has argued that the Parliament was informed of the meeting. But does informing the Parliament of a meeting after its occurrence automatically remove the veil of secrecy under which it was originally perceived to have been held? Can the covert become overt ex post facto?

The other term that is deserving of definition is “Commission” itself as the Opposition Leader is reported as saying that he told the Parliament that he communicated with the Commission. 

According to the interpretation section of the Integrity in Public Life Act “Commission” means the Integrity Commission established under section 4 of the Act. 

This section states that, “there is established an Integrity Commission consisting of a Chairman, Deputy Chairman and three other members who shall be persons of integrity and high standing”. Accordingly, the Commission consists of five members and not one. 

Does a private meeting with the Commission’s Chairman amount to a meeting with the Commission? Or did the Opposition Leader mean therefore that he had communicated with a “Commissioner” and not the “Commission"?Taking both terms together, was this a “secret Commission”?
The Integrity Commission in its very website boasts of being “an autonomous body that seeks to promote integrity as a foundational element of Trinidad & Tobago society”. 

Perceptions of such autonomy are derived in part from the manner in which matters of national interest are conducted and the level of openness and transparency that becomes attached to the conduct of official duty. Our citizens have lofty expectations of holders of high office which are creatures of our Constitution. 

Such expectations must either be met or must be perceived to have been met. The very preservation of the tenets of our democracy which are pivotal to our societal development and mobility depend on it.

Ashwani Mahabir

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai