Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Ethical Conduct Among Public Officials

By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.

According to a recent report in the Antigua Sun newspaper, Justice Don Mitchell QC said that, “Generations of Antiguans have lost all knowledge of what is the proper way to treat public assets and how to behave with the greatest propriety and what rules there are that should be followed; so that well-meaning people, people who mean best, simply don’t know, simply don’t understand what the correct procedures are.”

Wow! Generations who had lost all knowledge... Generations of well-meaning people who simply don't know and simply don't understand how to behave... what rules there are... what rules should be followed... what correct procedures are?

Justice Mitchell reportedly said that over the years Antigua & Barbuda had become a case study “of the phenomenon where there’s been a decline in the attention to integrity and good governance.”

Over the last quarter century, Antigua and Barbuda had become a 'case study' in poor governance and the decline of integrity. A 'case' for the world to see, wonder and marvel at, evaluate, and... yes... 'study'!

Although he did not reveal the details of his findings, he did indicate that whatever he found during his investigation of public officials, “It was not because they are corrupt, but that they simply don’t know any better.”

The decline of integrity, increases in impropriety, exhibition of poor governance, questions about corruption, not knowing how to treat public assets - these are all symptoms of very low levels of ethical conduct among public officials.

The management of ethics in public office is an essential part of good governance. It is a way to ensure the credibility of any public administration which may suffer from a lack of public respect and which may be criticized for a paucity of honesty, integrity and impartiality. Such seems to have been the case in Antigua and Barbuda during the long tenure of the previous administration.

The United Progressive Party (UPP), in its 2004 Manifesto seem to have recognized the need for ethics in public office in its assertion that “Integrity will be the bedrock of the UPP” if they were elected. Surely, the UPP recognized (as have many other commonwealth governments around the world) that without a Code of Ethics which is vigorously enacted, monitored and faithfully employed, there is the potential for a “weakening of the moral compass of ministers and civil servants, a greater willingness to contemplate actions which are improper, and an unhealthy closeness between ministers and civil servants” to the detriment of the country's citizens.

Many Antiguans and Barbudans would undoubtedly agree that such ‘weakening of the moral compass of ministers and civil servants’ might have been demonstrated in March, 2004 with the reportedly clandestine removal of files from various ministries by public officials - purportedly at the behest of their ministerial superiors.

Furthermore, during the last quarter century, hundreds of allegations were directed against public officials that seem to have indicated that some public servants had an increasingly ‘greater willingness to contemplate actions that were improper’. However, I hasten to add that many of these allegations highlighted in various media presumed not contemplation of improper actions… but assumed that ‘improper actions’ were actually carried out at the ministerial level and at all grades and ranks of public officials.

It has also been suggested that in such situations as existed over the last quarter century here in Antigua and Barbuda, that some government leaders seem to have treated the Civil Service like its ‘fiefdom’. According to one theorist, when a government emanates a strong scent, the Civil Service is likely to pick it up. Some are repelled by it, some attracted to it. As a consequence, the Civil Service becomes highly politicized. This was the case… is the case… in Antigua and Barbuda. It is still the case today because many of the Civil Servants who seemed to have identified themselves with the former administration’s ‘fiefdom’ appear not to have relinquished their identity. They continue to act in ways that question their integrity and impartiality as it relates to the carrying out of their duties as Civil Servants and public officials.

Adding to the confusion on this issue is the tenet that “Civil Servants should fully serve the Government of the day.” While it is clear that Civil Servants should fully carry out the dictates and mandates of the Government of day, it should also be noted that Civil Servants cannot do so in contravention of other legal, ethical or professional precepts or requirements. In other words, Civil Servants have an obligation to give honest and faithful service, to act in a manner consistent with the bond of trust and confidence of the citizenry, to act impartiality and with integrity, and to obey the law.

Even more importantly, ethical behavior applies to Ministers of Government and top public officials. For example, the code of conduct of one commonwealth government, states that, “Ministers have a duty to refrain from asking or instructing civil servants to do things which they should not do.” They also have a duty to ensure that Civil Servants are not asked to engage in activities likely to call in question their 'political impartiality', or to give rise to the criticism that public funds are being used for party or political purposes.”

When one attends to the very loud public discourse in the media, it is clear that issues such as maladministration, corruption, lack of integrity and impropriety in public office are increasingly areas of deep concern to the citizens of Antigua and Barbuda.

With the foregoing in mind, and with full awareness that the UPP Government has made a commitment to increase the levels of integrity, transparency and accountability in public administration, it seems that it is time to place a higher level of focus and sustained attention to improving the ethical and professional behaviors of public officials of all grades and ranks in Antigua and Barbuda.

Antigua and Barbuda cannot continue to be “a case study of the phenomenon where there’s been a decline in the attention to integrity and good governance.” We cannot accept that, “It was not because they are corrupt, but that they simply don’t know any better.” We will not accept it from Ministers of Government and other elected officials, Senators, Consultants, Advisors, Statutory Board Members, Permanent Secretaries or any other public official.

I must address Justice Mitchell's statement that 'it wasn't because they are corrupt', and that these highly place, highly qualified officials 'simply don't know any better.' His assertions stretches my imagination to its very limits... and I still find it hard to accept... that they 'simply don't know any better'. But, we may not ever be able to prove that some officials, in recent or past history, acted and behaved consciously, willingly, purposefuly and with full intent.

So, we must first accept that they can and must do better.

Secondly, we must ensure that future generations of Antiguan and Barbudan public officials regain and then retain the knowledge and practice of propriety, integrity and honesty in the pursuance of their obligations as ‘Civil’ servants!

Thirdly, we must put the mechanisms in place to hold public officials fully accountable for unethical conduct. Such mechanisms must have sanctions as sharp as shark teeth. And those who monitor their behaviors must be vigilant and demonstrate their willingness to apply the sanctions.

Generations of Antiguans and Barbudans will greatly appreciate that our twin island state would have become a 'case study' in excellent governance, with demonstrated high levels of propriety and integrity!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Conflict of Interest in High Office?

By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.

According to the online version of the Antigua Sun (December 7th, 2005), Asot Michael, Member of Parliament for St. Peter, “launched a fiery attack on the Hadeed family, during the debate on the 2006 budget. According to the Antigua Sun, Michael charged that “there is a blatant conflict of interest” for government to elevate a businessman to senior political office "while his business is still doing business with the government.”

That reported charge by Asot Michael gave me great pause. It does not matter what I think of Asot Michael and his political exploits or activities in the past. It does not matter what I think of Asot Michael and his current political woes with his own party. It does not matter what I think of Asot Michael – the man or the politician. His charge that “there is a blatant conflict of interest for government to elevate a businessman to senior political office while his business is still doing business with the government” is at least worthy of some thought.

Over the last quarter century, the former Antigua Labour Party (ALP) Administration, was constantly bombarded with charges of corruption and unethical ‘wheelings and dealings’. (Indeed, Asot Michael himself was at the center of some of these charges.) Over those years, the United Progressive Party (UPP) was front and center along with the media in challenging the ALP Government on each and every questionable deal that came to light. They took a principled and ethical stance against corruption in high office, against wheelings and dealings, and indeed… against any negotiations or agreements that, to them, had the appearance of illegality or impropriety.

Now that the UPP forms the Government, much is expected of them… not the least of which is that they embrace the same principled and ethical stances that they so ardently and passionately represented in their very public criticisms of the then ALP Government. Much is expected of them… to avoid not only wrong doing… but the appearance of illegality and impropriety in their high offices.

I would argue, then, that we look carefully at Asot Michael’s posturing in the House – whether it represented a personal vendetta against the Hadeed family… whether it represented a political vendetta, or whether it represented the ruminations of a man who had finally been touched by Grace. Whatever it represented, that reported statement “there is a blatant conflict of interest for government to elevate a businessman to senior political office while his business is still doing business with the government” needs to be seriously examined.

Questions need to be asked… and answered.

  • Does Mr. Hadeed recuse himself from Cabinet discussions on matters that impact the various business sectors in which his companies are involved?

  • More to the point… Does Mr. Hadeed recuse himself… or is he asked to recuse himself from discussions having to do with APUA and electricity generation, importation of cars (new or used), import taxes for businesses, etc?

  • Within the context of Cabinet decision-making, is Mr. Hadeed allowed to vote on, or discuss, or influence decisions on matters that impact his business interests?

  • Does Mr. Hadeed advise the members of Cabinet on matters that impact their decisions on matters pertinent to his business interests?

Please remember, that as a member of Cabinet – and indeed, both the Parliament and the Senate, Mr. Hadeed is imbued with extraordinary influence. His influence, as extraordinary as it is, must serve not his family business interests, but the interests of the Antiguan and Barbudan electorate.

Electorate? There-in and here-in lies the rub… he is not an elected official… he is an appointed official. He was not elevated to high office by the people for the enhancement of their interests. He was elevated by the political directorate of the UPP. Of course, it is my belief that the UPP Directorate felt that they could benefit from his vast business experience. But they ought to have instituted some rules and regulations governing the mechanics of his contributions while in such high office.

What are some of those rules? Here are at least two:

  1. That he should recuse himself from discussions on matters that impact the business sectors in which his companies are involved – including matters dealing with APUA.

  2. That, within Cabinet, he should not vote on such matters when decisions were being made. (And indeed, he should take a principled stance not to discuss or vote on such matters in either Parliament or the Senate.)

I am wondering what great benefit might the UPP Directorate have seen or expected in elevating Mr. Hadeed to such high offices? Did they need his advice and wise counsel on matters in which he is an expert? Could they not have offered him a more focused role in an advisory capacity? Or was his elevation due to something else… like rewarding him for his financial, consulting or other contribution during the phases of the last election?

Let me be quick to say, that one need not question, analyze or even try to understand Mr. Hadeed’s motivation to seek or serve in high official positions… that is not the question. Which business person would not seek such influence? Be careful of throwing the first stone. No… we ought not to question his motives for seeking or accepting such appointments.

It is not Mr. Hadeed who we should question. It is his appointers and UPP-lifters whom we must ask questions of.

The question is this: Is Mr. Hadeed being allowed to unduly influence and impact the decisions that are made at the highest levels of Government in our nation… specifically with regard to the decisions that impact the businesses in which he is involved? Here is another question: Does his presence in Cabinet give him an unfair advantage over his business competitors who are not privy to the detailed discussions on business issues which could seriously impact them?

If the answers are yes… then we must bear in mind that such influence can be seen and interpreted, and have the appearance of, and does carry the real possibility of being, according to Asot Michael, “A conflict of interest” for a businessman elevated to “senior political office” while his business is currently “doing business” with the same government that he is an integral part of. Not only does it jaundice his business dealings with the government (of which he is a part), but for it could seriously damage the government’s credibility with both large and small business owners. Furthermore, if it is perceived that he utilizes the advantageous position of his “senior political office”, this could undermine and dampen the willingness of local and foreign entrepreneurs who want to invest in Antigua & Barbuda in those particular areas of business in which his companies participate.

By the way, aren’t issues of impropriety and conflict of interest the crux of the charges that are being brought in court against some individuals who held “senior political office” within the former administration?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Modern Day Pirates & Privateers in the Caribbean

Part II

By Marcus M. Mottley

The modern day pirates and privateers of the Caribbean conduct their operations not from the sea, not from boats (maybe yachts) but from their private jets, continental main offices and local satellite offices.

Like pirates of old, these modern day prototypes of Morgan the Pirate and Blackbeard flaunt their money in grand style. Just like in days of old, they use their spoils to win the allegiance of the locals who live in these territories. They buy and then control the local and regional officialdom. They also use ‘pieces of silver’ to buy their way into the psyche of the people by propping up governments, and extravagantly funding sporting programs, political parties and community projects. They use money like drug pushers use cocaine… getting their victims addicted to the money and then using, abusing and then discarding them.

Like days of old, these modern day swashbuckling buccaneers in the Caribbean find this region such a ‘haven’, that they build their heavily fortified hideouts here. In the past, such hideouts were characterized by moats such that they were difficult to approach. Of course, these days, they build their lairs on small islands, protected by sophisticated underground (and undersea) high tech surveillance early warning systems. They are also protected by highly paid mercenaries who, like the buccaneers of old, are heavily armed, not with swords, knives and gun powder, but with… ‘modern day’ automatic gun power.

Some of these modern day pirates may also lay claim to the name “privateer” as did Morgan the Pirate and his ilk. They consort with the powerbrokers (senators & congress men) from today’s global powers. Indeed, one wonders if some of their activities are not “sanctioned” by these powerbrokers who may turn an official “blind eye” to the highly questionable source of the flaunted wealth of these modern day pirates or privateers in the Caribbean. Recent revelations in the halls of power in at least one of these global powers, indicate that some of these powerbrokers might themselves be quite susceptible to being addicted to the financial ‘fixes’ of the ‘privateering pirates’ in the Caribbean.

Indeed, the term privateer is not far fetched, since our modern day pirates also claim to be “private” international businessmen. One can imagine Sir Francis Drake or Captain Kidd claiming to be private businessmen with ‘financial interests’ in various ‘ports and harbors’ around the world. Another similarity is striking. Today’s pirates, turned privateers, like the buccaneers of days of old, find coves, hidden beaches, and small islands very attractive.

There is one other noteworthy similarity. Pirates and privateers are only attracted to territories that are associated with treasure.

One wonders then… to the extent that we may have such privateers buccaneering in Antiguan waters… what treasures might they know of that we don’t?

Are the sunshine islands of Antigua & Barbuda “Treasure Islands”?

A Brief History of Pirates & Privateers in the Caribbean

Part I
By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.

The history of piracy dates back more than 3000 years. Piracy was described in Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey. It appears that the word pirate (peirato) was also used about 140 BC by the Roman historian Polybius. The Greek historian Plutarch, writing in about 100 A.D., gave a clear definition of piracy. He described pirates as those who attack without legal authority, not only ships, but also maritime cities.

In more modern times, particularly in the Caribbean Region, pirates operated with impunity. The names of Morgan the Pirate, Captain Kidd and Edward Teach – more infamously known as Blackbeard, struck terror in the hearts of ships’ crews. In fact many of these pirates claimed a new name: “privateers”. The difference apparently was that a privateer was a pirate who had a commission or letter from a government authorizing him to seize or destroy a vessel of another nation. Global powers such as England, France and Spain commissioned their ‘private pirates’ to prey on each others ships and ‘New World’ territories.

Sir Francis Drake was the first of the well known “privateers”. Historically, he is considered a hero by the British but the Spanish consider him to have been a cruel and bloodthirsty pirate. Morgan the Pirate was also Sir Henry Morgan – having been recognized by the British Government for his exploits. He was later installed as Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica.

It is also noteworthy that privateers not only attacked ships, but also sacked and pillaged harbors, ports and seaside towns.

The exploits of these pirates, privateers or buccaneers as they were also known, is well depicted in the well known classic Treasure Island.

Today, unfortunately, we still have pirates and privateers plying their trade around the Caribbean Region. However, although these ‘modern’ day swashbuckling buccaneers still hunt for other people’s gold and silver, they do so using modern piratical means such as money-trafficking, money cycling and other types of financial crime. Again, quite regrettably, this Region is embraced by some modern day ‘private pirates’ of the Caribbean as a “haven” for their swashbuckling activities.