Monday, October 25, 2004

Public Service Integrity Board, Acceptance Speech, 25 October 2004

May I first, on behalf of myself and my colleagues, Pastor Cecil Richardson and Mr Alister Richardson, thank the Governor for the confidence that he has shown in us in appointing us to be the first members of the Public Service Integrity Board. We trust that we shall be able to live up to the high expectations that we know that both he and the Anguillian community have of us, and that we will never be perceived as having let all of you down.

Our Duties
Our duties are set out in the Act[1] under which we are appointed. It may be worth reminding ourselves what those duties are[2]:

  1. First, to examine requests for permission from public officers to hold interests in commercial undertakings or to engage in private work;

  2. Second, to report to the Governor whether any grant of such permission would be a conflict of interest;
    Third, to investigate as directed by the Governor any alleged conflict of interest;

  3. Fourth, to examine the Establishments Department’s lists of public officers who hold interests in commercial undertakings or are engaged in public work; and

  4. Fifth, to report to the Governor the results of all investigations with recommendations.

From the above, it will be apparent that the main issue that the Anguilla House of Assembly passed this Act to deal with was conflicts of interest among public officers. The Board is not an Ombudsman, and does not investigate complaints against actions and decisions of public officers. The Board is not a court to hear evidence and try cases brought against public officers. The Board will principally investigate allegations of conflict of interest involving public officers.

Conflicts of Interest
What is a conflict of interest? Section 1 of the Act provides the definition. It means a direct or indirect interest of a public officer in a commercial undertaking, or direct or indirect involvement of a public officer in private work, if such interest or work clashes or is incompatible with his official duties. The Act gives examples, such as where his private work impairs his efficiency, or brings the public service into disrepute, or impinges on his official responsibilities, or makes him unavailable for official duties outside normal working hours, or puts him in a position where he is able to use his official position for private gain[3].

The Anguillian community, through its representatives, the House of Assembly, in passing this Act into law, has said that these situations are unacceptable in Anguilla. It will be for the Board, on receipt of proper directions from the Governor, to investigate and to make recommendations to him for further action, if any such situations are found to exist among public officers in Anguilla.

Public Officers
Who is a public officer is not defined in the Act. It is different in Great Britain. There, the then PM, the Rt Hon John Major, announced in the House of Commons on 25 October 1994, ten years ago to this day exactly, the setting up in Britain of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Lord Nolan, with the following terms of reference:

To examine . . . concerns about standards of conduct of all holders of
public office, . . . and make recommendations as to any changes in present
arrangements which might be required to ensure the highest standards of
propriety in public life.

For these purposes, public office should include: Ministers, civil
servants and advisers; Members of Parliament . . .; Members and senior officers
of all non-departmental public bodies and of national health service bodies;
non-ministerial office holders; and members and other senior officers of other
bodies discharging publicly-funded functions; . . .[4]

The Anguilla Public Service Integrity Board is not vested with similar terms of reference from the Governor. The Board’s terms of reference are not as wide as Lord Nolan’s were. Instead, we are bound by the statutory limitations set out in the Act of the House of Assembly that established our Board.

We are limited to dealing with pure civil servants. Others undeniably engaged in the public service are not included. So, for example, Members of the House of Assembly and Ministers of Government are out of bounds to this Board. Members of statutory bodies such as the Public Health Authority, the Social Security Board, the Financial Services Commission, and ANGLEC’s Board of Directors are outside of our remit. Quasi-governmental bodies, such as the Carnival Committee, are untouchable by this Board.

Nor, unlike in Britain, does the Board deal with public concerns. The House of Assembly did not intend the Board either to respond directly to complaints from the public nor to act on its own initiative in ferreting out conflicts of interest and corruption. The way the Act is framed, the Board generally responds only to directions from the Governor. So, if any complaint from a member of the public about a particular alleged conflict of interest comes directly to the Board, then we shall be obliged to pass that complaint on to the Governor. Only if he considers that an investigation is called for, and directs us to carry one out, will we be able to respond to any particular public concern. We will also examine the Establishment Department’s list of public officers who hold interests in commercial undertakings or are engaged in public work. If any matter seems worthy of investigation to us, we shall bring it to his attention with a view to receiving his directions.
Whether these limitations on the reach and scope of the Public Service Integrity Board is a good thing will be for others to debate. If the House of Assembly comes to the conclusion that this was an oversight, it will be easy enough to correct it by an amendment to the Act.

Seven Principles of Public Life
Having mentioned Lord Nolan, I cannot do better than to remind all of us of the Seven Principles of Public Life set out in the first Report of his Committee[5]. They are:

  1. Selflessness
    Holders of public office should take decisions 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.

  2. Integrity
    Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.

  3. Objectivity
    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.

  4. Accountability
    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.

  5. OpennessHolders 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.

  6. Honesty
    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.

  7. Leadership
    Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

These principles are not limited only to Britain. They have been eagerly accepted and adopted throughout the Commonwealth[6]. I expect that they will overshadow and guide the work of this Board in the following two years and into the future.

Public service integrity is not a matter that concerns only the Anguillian public. Other countries both Commonwealth and foreign have appointed public service integrity boards and commissions. Trinidad and Tobago have entrenched a Board similar to ours in their Constitution[7].

Perhaps the time is right for the Anguilla Civil Service Association to consider adopting a written Code of Ethics for the guidance of its members. Some public services such as that in New Zealand[8] have adopted a Code of Ethics in order to assist their members who are uncertain about certain activities[9]. The Australian Parliament has gone so far as to give its public service Code of Ethics statutory force[10]. Without a written Code of Ethics to give guidance, it is sometimes difficult for the best-intentioned public servant to always know what is the right thing to do in borderline cases or on issues that only infrequently arise.

ConclusionWe, the members of your Board, must now begin our work. We shall have to inform ourselves what exactly are the standards that our public servants are expected to meet. To this end, we shall have to educate ourselves and the public on conflict of interest issues and how to resolve them.

We shall then have to respond to requests to investigate those against whom complaints are made.
Our reports and recommendations on any particular conflict of interest will eventually find their way to the Public Service Commission. It is worth reminding ourselves that under our Constitution it is the Public Service Commission, and not this Board, that has responsibility for the disciplining of civil servants.

Nevertheless, in our work we shall be touching on people’s income and livelihood, than which there are few more touchy subjects.

It is not going to be easy to get a correct balance between the public interest and private rights.

We are going to need all the help from the public that we can get.

It is the Anguillian public, after all, who in the final analysis will decide what is or is not acceptable conduct among public officers. It is the average man and woman in Anguilla who will have to set the standard that we all expect our public officers to live up to. If they think that certain practices are OK, and they are content to permit them to continue in Anguilla, then there is little that a Board can do to change that perception of those practices. If, on the other hand, Anguillians stand up and join in the chorus that certain behaviour is not acceptable, then, when some public officer falls below the benchmark, it will not be difficult for the Board to assist the Governor and the Public Service Commission with the enforcement of those standard.

Thank you.

[1] Public Service Integrity Board Act, Revised Statutes of Anguilla, Cap P170
[2] ibid section 8
[3] ibid section 1
[4] Hansard (HC) 25 October 1994, col 758
[5] [Nolan Report] United Kingdom, First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Vol. 1 (London: HMSO, 1994)
[6]A Strong Foundation: Report of the Task Force on Public Service Values and Ethics (Canada, 2000)
[7] Trinidad & Tobago Constitution, Chapter 10
[8]Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service of Canada; New Zealand Public Service Code of Ethics; Mauritius Code of Ethics
[9]New Zealand Public Service Code of Conduct
[10]Public Service Management Act 1994, s.9