Conflicts of interest

| 21/10/2011

Ezzard Miller is absolutely right to be concerned about elected representatives' conflicts of interest where they have businesses directly related to their public work. However, there is one critical issue which bears mentioning and another which bears elaboration. We have a woefully inadequate Register of Interests Law. 

You could drive a bus load of conflicts sideways through the gates of that and not scratch either end! Let me give you one obvious example. In respect of shareholdings in non-exempt companies, the declaration form provides:

SHAREHOLDINGS
Do you have (either yourself or with or on behalf of your spouse or dependent children) interests in shareholdings in any company (other than an exempt or non-resident company) or other body which have a nominal value (a) greater than $25,000, or (b) less than $25,000 but greater than one per cent of the issued share capital of the company or body?
YES/NO (Please delete as appropriate).
If you look at the language in parentheses you will see that the question is in respect of (a) yourself (individually), or (b) yourself and your spouse and/or your dependent children (jointly) or (c) yourself acting trustee on behalf of your wife and/or your dependent children (trustee).

What is obviously missing?

The missing scenario is shares that are known to the declarant to be held in the name of his/her spouse and/or his/her dependent children.

The law can’t really cover every conceivable permutation of potential conflicts of interests but it seems to me that it misses some very obvious and common place mechanisms used to avoid its bite. This law needs to be strengthened considerably. One last point on this is that I can see no reason why the Register of Interests  (as deficient as it is) should not be on the website of the Legislative Assembly. This is a public document and should be available to the public in the most convenient way.  The Hansard is online and the Register is no less significant.

The other point:

The other point worthy of elaboration is that those individuals who are not financially self-sufficient are much more likely to succumb to improper opportunities. We know that there are many that become politicians and (to borrow a wonderful Jamaican expression) go from “vapour to paper” almost overnight. If you look at the average person in the country earning a similar salary to that earned by MLAs, they certainly can do well for themselves and their family and even where they have small businesses but you would be hard pressed to find examples of real extravagance such as multi-million dollar condos and the perceived trappings of the rich and famous.

Why should it be different for some of our politicians? The difference between the long track record of a successful businessman and a successful politician should be fairly stark. The former should have done well financially and continue to better his position, the latter should in general be no better off than the man in the street earning a similar salary (and one could argue that as a politician he might be worse off the longer he is in office given the regular requests for assistance that comes with the territory). That is the irony of a comparison of those two success stories, my friends. Where the reality is significantly different for the politician, it bears examination. They may be spending more time looking after their interests than yours.

So the issue is not necessarily whether someone has business interests. People who are self-made outside of politics are in a number of respects better placed to represent the interests of their people, not simply because they are free of temptation but also because they usually aren’t successful businesspeople if they lack credibility and integrity and those desirable characteristics of drive and determination. The issue is really whether they appropriately and fully disclose their interests and make sure that they avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest by perhaps going as far as divestment, as Mr Miller did.

I have commented on this issue previously but it seems to me that we have some politicians in this country (and some who surround them) who see potential and often even real conflicts as opportunities to be exploited rather than avoided simply because they won a battle at the polls. The spoils of war. The word typically used to describe that is corruption and it is atax on the country. It is an insidious destructive cancer that eats away at civil society in a multitude of ways and can ultimately even threaten the Rule of Law and democracy itself. You only have to look at TCI as an example. There are ominous signs here as well.

I am pleased that we have some politicians like Mr Miller who insist on the avoidance of conflicts, who implement and support the laws and institutions of transparency and good governance and who clearly are acting against any suggestion of self-interest. Talking about transparency and good governance creates neither. We have to look at actions. Those who have put in place and supported such things as the Freedom of Information Law are clearly acting in the interests of the people and even in the short time that it has been in effect, it is obvious that it is a far more effective tool to strengthen democracy than the Register of Interests Law as it is. Those who don’t like it do so for obvious reasons.

The accountants usually say follow the money to find the answers. The character flaws that cause people to participate in corruption are the same ones that put their egos into overdrive. If politicians or those around them appear extravagant and acquire substantial properties and car collections and exhibit lifestyles that seem far beyond their means, it may well be time for the public and the people they purport to represent to question whether something inappropriate is going on. It may be time to demand explanations and hold them accountable. If you accept lame explanations, you are selling out yourself, your fellow countryman and your children’s future. “It is political” is not an explanation.  These things will have a major impact down the line if not immediately. These things get worse if unchecked, not better.      

Category: Viewpoint

Comments (27)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Wayne, excellent view point which was both informative and easy to understand for everyone. Please continue your initiative for strong and effective anti corruption measures because it is people of high principles like yourself that should represent Caymanians at the polls. You have our support and we hope you will run for public office in the next election to save our country from the ruin that the current government is subjecting us to with established corrupt practices in everything they do. We need real and successful business men and women in Government and not the gang culture of thugs and bullies running an underworld empire in the disguise of a Government by mostly uneducated individuals with no successful business background that has been built without their own political influence and intervention.
    Initiative for the return of a CLEAN and ETHICAL Cayman.

  2. Jacky boatside from old bush says:

    The greatest enemy of human souls is the self righteous spirit. which makes men look to themselves for salvation. Need i say more Cayman?

  3. KS says:

    I'll be casting my vote for you!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Wayne Panton and Carlyle McLaughlin for BT, Ezzard for NS, Arden for EE, Alden, Kurt and Andrew Reid and Carla Reid for GT, and Wade DaCosta and Julene Banks for WB.  Honest, educated and intelligent people with impeccable integrity who have Cayman's best interest at heart.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Anti Corruption Committee should look to see what properties politicians have acquired since the last election and whether, given their usual living expenses, would have been able to have accumulated that sort of money in the time span they did.

    • Anonymous says:

      How does the general public contact them to investigate into something?

      I know of something.  I have a little piece of evidence.  I don't know who to contact.  It is definitely not heresay! I just don't know the best person to provide the information and actually see results. 

      Otherwise, this information can just go to the marl road and have people talk about it and nothing is done to fix the problem.  I want to see some action!

      • Anonymous says:

        Official Corruption is a crime. It can be reported directly to the Commissioner of Police in person, by letter, by email or over the phone. If you want anonymity you can also report it to Crime Stoppers. Please report what you know.

    • Anonymous says:

      Excellent suggestion 20:59

      Unfortunately, so long as we keep voting for people who can't afford NOT to be politicians, we run the risk of these people milking their new found influence to their personal advantage.

      let's take a closer look at the "what's in this for me..?" candidates when casting our votes in future.

  6. Anonymous says:

    How about our Finance Minister that through his own admission, is "not a financial expert", yet allowed  to remain in that position to negotiate the most costly capital projects of thisgeneration?  Are we all okay with that?

  7. Wha ya say says:

    Thank you Mr Panton. Excellent viewpoint. 

    It is unfortunate that the majority of the electorate seem unconcerned with the Register of Interests and its intended purpose. Not only should it be on line, but it should also be available for viewing at strategic locations such as each district post office.

  8. peter milburn says:

    Thanks Wayne you have hit the nail right on the head.

  9. The Crown says:

    BRAVO!!!

    • Stiffed-Necked Fool says:

      I pray to Almighty God that you Mr Wayne Panton decide to run for elected office. it's people like you that are not only well educated but have great common sense, that this Country needs to take us out of these perilous times that theUDP have sunk us into.

      But Mr Panton,as much as I desperately want you to be one of our elected Members, if I see your name in the same sentence as UDP or one of its members, I would not vote for you. I look forward to hearing your impending announcement – well I am allowed to dream!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Mr. Panton for enlightening us on the laws.  Right now we need you back in West Bay with 3 other intelligent men like yourself.  We need to clean house in West Bay first and the other districts will align.  West Bay candidates are our biggest problem, except for mother mouth in George Town.  Please consider…….

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree this was very informative, but we need more than an 'educated' politician. We have had those before too, so it still comes down to the willingness by those elected to do the right thing and actually agree to the laws that allow for greater transparency and accountability.

      As a Caymanian the words by Mr Panton:

      "… We know that there are many that become politicians and (to borrow a wonderful Jamaican expression) go from “vapour to paper” almost overnight. …."

      would have to be compared with his track record of how he treats/treated those persons who come from vapour and trying to honestly make a living, for example as a lawyer in his profession of choice, before I give him my X.

      The recent incident of a disgruntled employee in Bodden Town highlights the point that this type of behaviour is so many circumstances it is the Caymanians who are hurting their own people and if we don't address the problem with our own elected members, it will be even more challenging to influence the wider society. 

      This type of comment in most contexts can usually indicate that the writer of such sentiment, (not just a passing comment which Mr Panton may intend) may also be against the material gains by those going from vapour to paper out of jealous at the obvious lack of effort that may have been put out to achieve such gains. Currently, the MLAs are using loopholes in the same way many lawyers do for the best interest of their clients.

      While I fully understand and agree with the article it is a pity that most people don't look at how so many laws are being used to the advantage by those who can. For example employment and immigration may be 'bent' not broken so that Caymanian lawyers assist others to secure their increase in wealth and even at expense of not assisting their own.

      So bottom line….in my opinion, stating an opinion that would receive an A grade in law school doesn't translate into making that person a fair and decent politician.

  11. Anonymous says:

    The policing of the Register of Interests needs to be trasfered to an effective external Anti-Corruption agency. The present farce shows that clearly.

  12. Anonymous says:

    It is sad when you have to enact laws to force public figures to be simply straight forward and honest in their dealings.

     

    whatever happened to "it's simply the right thing to do?".

  13. Lachlan MacTavish says:

    Mr. Panton, thank-you for your viewpoint. It is refreshing after the last 2 plus decades of negative impact and poor leadership to finally see several ethical politicians rising to the surface. Along with the newly web educated population and voters we are hopefully on our way to voting out the self serving politico's and getting our wonderful country back on track.

    Lachlan MacTavish

  14. Len Layman says:

    There is no issue in the Cayman Islands now that is more important than passing laws to assure the unquestionable elimination of any conflict of interest of our elected and appointed officials.  There are no economic problems or social situations that are ahead of this.  We need to restore the people’s confidence in our elected officials and our political system, across both parties.  Until we can be sure of the motivation of our elected officials there will be a cloud of doubt in the public’s mind over any decisions they make.

    The people want officials that they can be assured are looking out for the people’s interestfirst.  Not their own. Under the current laws, as Mr. Panton points out, we do not have this assurance. 

    I have said before, putting the proper legislation, regulations and constitutional systems in place is a priority. Those politicians (of any party) that have excuses why this should not or cannot be done will only be held suspect by the people.  Those that are willing to stand up and support what needs to be done will be rewarded with the peoples support. 

    This is not a party problem and our elected officials need to stand up as individuals and tell us what their personal stand on this issue is, not their  party’s rhetoric.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Mr. Panton! This is very easy to understand. I can't imagine anyone having a problem with this!

  16. Knot S Smart says:

    Excellent article Mr. Panton!

    Your country needs you to be a candidate in the next elections!

    Please step up to the challenge!

  17. Anonymous says:

    Mr Panton

    You have my X.  For love of country for God's sake run in the next election.

    • Sheriff badge for you too. says:

      Run but as a INDEPENDENT.

      • Anonymous says:

        Sherrfi Badge you living in the past!. Last election 22 independent candidates contested 15 seats and only one was was successful!

        What does that tell the rest of Cayman?

        • Anonymous says:

          What it told me was that the end result of voting for an independent is that the UDP will go in again. Independents cannot form a government, as much as we would like to think that voting for a few good personalities will change things. Look to a coalition party going in, ask those running if they are willing to publicly commit to that. The UDP faithful will always vote the ticket.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Thank you once again Mr. Panton. You are absolutely right.

    The other thing that I would suggest be looked at is that there are no adequate penalties for non-disclosure of conflicts and no adequate penalties for failure to register interests in the official Register. The law needs to be amended so that failure to register an interest with a value of more than $1,000 within 14 days of acquiring the interest is a criminal offense subject carrying a significant fine and making a person no longer eligible to sit in the LA.

    We also need to change the law to formally recognise the connection between conflicts of interest and corruption by adding a section which makes acting on a conflict of interest which produces a personal gain or a gain for a related person, (whether the conflict is disclosed or not), an offense which carries a penalty of forfeiture of 3 times the gain and a criminal conviction which also prohibits a person from holding an elected position or working in the civil service.

    These changes in addition to the measures you suggest would act a lot like a vaccine against the cancer that is corruption.