Congratulations to Greg Christie, who has been appointed chairman of the Integrity Commission. This move by a Government which has been plagued by allegations of corruption must be put down to people power as he is a person who the public have long been clamouring for.
He brings not only experience but an attitude which we (and by we, I mean all 3 million of us) have been lacking. He not only does his job (which in the past as OCG head meant highlighting possible breaches), but he does it with no questions asked and no favour sought, pissing off everyone in positions of power and, possibly most important, he publicly laments the fact that our laws are so weak while doing the job.
As we celebrate the appointment of Mr Christie, let us remember the last point, as that is what has, for years, hindered us, and possibly drove Mr Christie out of local public office after his term in the OCG ended and may very well hamper him this time around if it is not dealt with swiftly (something only the public can really push for and demand).
What exactly do I mean when I say keep an eye on his second highlight? In case we have forgotten, the OCG, as it was constituted, could not charge anyone, recommend and rebuke yes, but charge and bring before the courts, no. That was left to either the DPP or the Commissioner of Police. This was a major gripe for all who occupied the chair of Contractor General, something Mr Christie continually highlighted publicly. Likewise, the Integrity Commission can investigate, recommend and rebuke, but charges must be laid by either the DPP or the Commissioner of Police, again something Mr Christie has highlighted as a major flaw.
I may not be the brightest person, but it seems to me that we are back in the same position, albeit with a group which now is bigger, ‘better funded’ and with more bark. And that is what scares and confuses me about this appointment and the acceptance.
Is the Government going to give the commission more teeth, that is the power to charge people? If so, that is wonderful news. The template apparently already exists if we are to assume that the charges against Mr Reid and Mr Pinnock are to stick and the legislation should be brought to Parliament and the public promptly as it is something we all want.
Or have they decided that this is enough power for the commission, and Mr Christie being the true patriot has come home knowing full well that his powers will be sorely limited in order to make best of what we currently have and try like hell to stir up public anger so that the legislation his agency requires and we have demanded are pushed through?
Mr Christie is a person who, in my non-scientific opinion, is more popular than the Prime Minister. He is a public servant who, when he speaks, people listen and think it over. His appointment is monumental in that we now have housed at our anti-corruption watchdog Mr Christie and Ms Monroe-Ellis, people who have the uncanny ability to sniff out corruption and point out in basic language how we can fix these problems.
It is monumental in that even if the laws aren’t changed in the near term, the people who are on the ground demanding amendments to corruption laws and watchdogs have a firm and vocal ally on the inside who is not afraid to take the arrows which come from speaking out against corruption. What will we, the people of this country wracked by corruption, do with this ally on the inside? What can we do together to hasten the destruction of the corrupt entities which have done unspeakable damage to our nation?
As the parties gear up for general and local government elections, as they begin to plaster the media with ads begging us for our vote, we must insist that they fight corruption. If they don’t, we should vote for the alternative. As we enter the season where everything becomes politicised, let us make known to our prospective representatives that we want them to dismantle the corrupt parts of the State and that they will be held accountable. It means when we get wind of the next scandal — as there is always one in the pipeline — that we take to the streets and demand not only token resignations and the odd investigation by MOCA/CTOC but that the anti-corruption agency be given the full powers to investigate and prosecute people and entities which have been found to be corrupt while dealing with the State’s business.
I know it is hard, it seems hopeless and that nothing can be done, but it can be done and the examples, ways and templates which we can learn from are legion. We have an ally in a high place and a vocal one at that. We individually are pissed at the corruption which seeps through the State. It is up to us now to reason at the bar, at the church and on the ball-field and come to the conclusion that together we (with or without the help, but greatly assisted by it) can force the powerful and those who control the State (both private and public) into yielding to our demand that a check be placed on their corrupt practices, that monies be paid back and that people go to jail.
We have a long and sorry history when it comes to this area of anti-corruption. Regularly have we had good public and private figures hounded out of a job and eventually out of the island as the public sits back watching helplessly as corruption is entrenched. We have had a history of many false dawns and corners turned, and though the populace may be weary we must not let this golden opportunity slip through our fingers.
In that same vein, we have a history of wanting a saviour, a magician who can wave their wand and, by themselves, make it better. That must change after this appointment as it has failed us in the past. This is a collective effort, and if we want to see results borne from this appointment and team assembled then we the people on the outside — the ones who suffer — must assist them. I say again, we need to be demanding from the State that it strengthens this commission, give it more power and latitude as was done with the BOJ in the recent past.
Two people can’t fix this, just as one person didn’t create this problem. It is a collective issue requiring a collective solution. We know what the problem is, we have been harking on about it for years, we have two stars in the public eye in an agency aimed at tackling the problem, let’s not make the same mistake. Help them in calling out corruption, channel information and possible leads to this commission, defend it in the papers and over the airwaves when it is attacked — as it will be attacked — and above all demand that it gets the powers which most people think it should have. Either we take the hand offered in the fight against corruption or lose it. We are not guaranteed a better opportunity.