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Transparency and Accountability Vital for the Success of Democracy

Education 19 Jan, 2023 Follow News

Dr Livingston Smith

Transparency and accountability are critical in building the kind of democracy worthy of living our full lives as citizens. In fact, these are practices worthy of fighting for unless we are prepared to allow corruption to remain entrenched and widespread in our societies. By transparency we mean citizens having unfettered access to timely and reliable information on decisions and performance in the public sector. It means public officials being open and responsive and believing that citizens have the right to have access. This is crucial as it affects the level of public trust which has implications for the legitimacy of government, quality of governance, principles of fair service, the reliability and integrity of public institutions and so on.

Public officials are held accountable when they are obligated to report on the use of public resources and must answer when they do not meet performance objectives. Transparency and accountability obviously reinforce each other as when public officials are obligated to report their actions, they are forced to be transparent.

If by democracy we mean a system in which the people govern through their representatives who are obligated to report to them and consult with them, then it does not exist without transparency and accountability. These matter for the type of democracy we desire to construct and willing to live under. Transparency and accountability must be an obligation in all three spheres of the state- the executive, the executive, and the judiciary.

The Cayman Islands National Framework for Fighting Corruption

As the Auditor General has pointed out, since 2007, consecutive governments have introduced measures aimed at promoting transparency and accountability in in the public sector thereby combatting fraud and corruption.

These have included: The Anti-Corruption Law; The Standards in Public Life Law 2014; The Anticorruption Commission established in 2010; The Anti-Fraud Policy 2017, etcetera. A range of other bodies also play a role in promoting transparency and accountability thereby combatting corruption including the Commission for Standards in Public Life, the Ombudsman, the Office of the Auditor General, the Financial Reporting Authority among others.

Significantly, changes to the Anti-Corruption Act (2019 Revision) intent on making the current team of Anti-Corruption Commission officers, law enforcement agents, are in line with the best practices of the most effective anticorruption commissions in the world. In showing political will in making the ACC into an independent body with its own independent authority to investigate and prosecute, by building the capacity of anti-corruption institutions so they can stamp out unethical behaviors, the government has demonstrated its commitment to the anticorruption campaign.

However, there are other important characteristics that make anticorruption bodies effective and these are copiously documented. These include a broad, legally guaranteed and clear mandate, neutral appointment of heads, immunity of heads and staff members from criminal and civil proceedings, adequate remuneration and human resources and financial independence, etcetera. The independence of the commissions is vital. TION COMMISSIONS

The European Partners against Corruption point to the importance of preserving the confidentiality of investigations to protect the interests of all parties involved (whistle-blowers, suspects, witnesses, etc.). This includes mechanisms to protect whistle-blowers and witnesses, secrecy of investigations, etcetera. 

As pointed out by Transparency International, ‘The accountability of ACAs is crucial to ensure their credibility and to build public trust. Anti-corruption commissions should have clear and standard operating procedures, including monitoring and disciplinary mechanisms, to reduce the risks of misconduct and abuse of power in the commissions.’

‘Anti-corruption commissions must strictly adhere to the rule of law and be accountable to mechanisms established to prevent any abuse. The accountability of ACAs also requires regular reporting to the public’ Even though it is true that values and morality, trust and ethics in government require more than legislation and cannot be relegated purely to commissions instituted by government to measure the probity and integrity of politicians and public officials, yet because public monies are spent on such bodies, they must be made to be as effective as possible.

But I am considerate of the fact that while the institutional/ constitutional framework is vital, especially for those of us who believe that structures such as the constitution, legislatures, parties, bureaucracies, both constrain and enable behavior and that they take on lives of their own and shape the behavior of the people who live within them, this is only part of the reality. How these institutions function is also a matter of the broader culture in which they operate making for a dynamic relationship between institutional structure and the broader culture including political culture.

Greg Christie, Executive Director of the Jamaica Integrity Commission, for example points out that even though Jamaica’s anticorruption model comprises an extensive institutional and legal framework and a significant body of common law, statutory and constitutional law provisions, as well as international treaty instruments, it is still perceived as highly corrupt placing at 70 in the most recent Transparency International Ranking.

It seems to me that for the institutional/ constitutional framework to be more impactful, much more interventions are needed to curb cultural practices that promote entrenchment and institutionalization of corruption. One of these interventions must be the teaching of ethics as mandatory in the education system and I daresay especially in our tertiary institutions. Such training must cover the fourteen modules outlined in the UNODC integrity and ethics education programme that includes ethical leadership, behavioral ethics, public integrity and ethics, professional ethics, business integrity etcetera.

But most important, leaders at the head of our political institutions must be committed to ethical behaviors. The example of ethical behavior from the top instituting a zero tolerance for unethical behavior catalyzes a culture of transparency and integrity within institutions, instituting zero tolerance to corruption. Further, this positive leadership will go a far way in ensuring  that people throughout their institutions do what is right. They act by setting codes of ethics for all to follow, setting up policies, training systems, incentives and disincentives.

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