Chairman: Staff shortage, dysfunction at Integrity Commission

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prof Rajendra Ramlogan, chairman of the Integrity Commission. –

ALARMING instances of dysfunction and insubordination are highlighted in the Integrity Commission’s latest annual report rendering the ability of the commission’s ability to effectively monitor politicians and other people in public life to be less partly effective.

The controversy involving the commission, which serves as the watchdog agency to examine the assets, liabilities and registrable interests of people in public life, is not the first as on two previous occasions the board had to resign over improper conduct.

In the 2021 annual report, the chairman Prof Rajendra Ramlogan said the entire Investigations Unit of the Integrity Commission resigned over their opposition to plans to introduce performance parameters for staff.

He also alleged that top managers at the commission had defied the instructions of the board of commissioners.

Ramlogan said the commission had requested a status report on all outstanding investigations, amid “serious issues with performance” as 15 investigations were outstanding, some since 2013.

The report said that among 462 files listed in an audit, some 92 which were done over 20 years remained undetermined. Five files were mysteriously missing, 330 were closed and 27 were pending. The report also said staff to monitor the compliance of the submissions of declarations of people in public life had been reduced by 70 per cent between 2017-2021 leaving some 4,500 outstanding declarations and statements of registrable interests.

As a consequence many declarations and statements filed since 2014 have not yet been reviewed by the Compliance Unit, Ramlogan said.

Ramlogan lamented “a total dysfunction” between staffing arrangements and the commission’s core statutory duties.

“While it is customary for administration to be between 20-30 per cent of staffing arrangements in business operations, this (administration staff) stood at 63 per cent at the commission. “Compliance (officers) made up 20 per cent of the staff and investigations 17 per cent.

“These are stark numbers that perhaps can explain the public perception of the failure of the commission to carry out its statutory mandate.”

Under Ramlogan the commission established an investigations sub-committee “to enable increased scrutiny of the workings of the Investigation Unit on individual investigations.”

“The commission sought to introduce performance appraisals of the work of all investigators before the renewal of contracts of employment.

“Investigators are required to account for their performance before the Support Services Sub-Committee of the Commission to discuss performance issues before contract renewal.”

The chairman said the Director of Investigations was told of specific concerns with performance.

“However, the Director of Investigations refused to attend the meetings.

“The Commission then took a unanimous decision not to renew his contract, yet his contract was renewed by the Registrar in defiance of the Commission’s unanimous decision.”

Ramlogan said the former Director of Investigations later resigned within the term of his renewed contract.

“The efforts of the commission to introduce performance parameters in the Investigations Unit to ensure that investigations are conducted with greater professionalism led to conflict, with the result being the resignation of the entire Investigations Unit.”

Ramlogan lamented that the Investigations Unit had merely had one unsuccessful prosecution of a complaint, which the court had granted a stay on, referring to the case of Wellington Virgil v Basdeo Panday before Magistrate Marcia Murray. Ramlogan cited a ruling that the commission had been “recklessly indifferent” in reporting Panday to the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2002 without presenting him the findings of its investigation and allowing him the full opportunity to be heard.

He said the commission sought to insist on a six-month timeline to resolve all complaints.

Ramlogan said certain senior officers had refused to carry out several unanimous decisions of the commission or took independent decisions without seeking the commission’s guidance.

“The results were that decisions such as the submission of budgetary estimates, renewal of employment contracts, employment of staff, implementation of security policies, and closure of the Commission being taken independent of the Commission, albeit at times with the purported acquiescence of external governmental entities.

“Particularly problematic was the refusal by the Registrar to allow the Commission to participate in the preparation of the Budget Estimates for 2022.

“This is in direct contradiction of the Integrity in Public Life Act, Exchequer and Audit Act, and Ministry of Finance Call Circular dated March 24, 2021.”

Last November, the media had reported that some staff had complained to several bodies (such as the Public Services Commission) about the commission chairman’s method of handling staff, with such complaints endorsed by the former Head of Investigations (Richard Frederick) speaking to the media. In reply, the commission had issued a statement saying the chairman had raised with his fellow commissioners, the “many concerns and negative opinions” levelled by citizens over the years, regarding the commission’s efficacy in discharging its duties.

It had sought the views of the PSC, Chief Personnel Officer, and Solicitor General, and thought it had acted in line with advice received.

“The commission has received buy-in regarding its organisational changes from some members of its staff, but not from all.”

The statement had said change management was never an easy process.

“The commission respects the right of persons who are uncomfortable with change, to choose a course which does not involve adjusting to the unfamiliarity of a changed environment. But change is necessary if improvement is to be made in discharging the commission’s statutory mandate.”