Many years ago, a medical doctor appeared on a local TV talk show and argued that public officials should leave office poorer than when they first entered. What he was saying was that persons who work in public offices should be prohibited from using their positions or status or influence for their personal benefit.
The APNU+AFC is supposed to have a code of conduct for Ministers. That code of conduct however is inoperable. A few months ago after allegations were made against a Minister, it was stated that it was for her party, not the government, to take action against her. By that ingenious statement, the code was reduced to a worthless document.
A code of conduct is needed not just for Ministers but also for public servants. Corruption in the public service is rife. Public office can and has been used for personal enrichment and it is incumbent on Governments to enact measures that would help reduce the possibility of public servants and officials using their public offices were their personal benefit.
Public service rules specify that permission is required for any public servants to participate in any other work. This implies any other business. The rules were passed down from the British who understand the dangers of serving two masters and about conflicts of interest.
But conflict of interest became an alien concept to those who see public service as self-service, as a means to personal aggrandizement, power and prestige.
Today there are traditional public servants – those who are appointed by the Public Service Commission – and there are contract public servants – including the numerous political appointees who owe their positions not to any competitive system of interviews but to political patronage.
It is this latter group on which restrictions are required to tame the possibility of using their positions for personal enrichment. They have no security of tenure and therefore there is greater temptation to make hay while the sun still shines.
Public office is prone to abuse. Public officials have access to valuable information. They know for example where and when major developmental works are likely to take place. They may know for example that a road or a bridge or an industrial facility is going to be built in a certain area and that this road is likely to increase the value of land in that area. This is called ‘insider information’.
The land then becomes potentially lucrative to whoever can acquire it. In such circumstances, the public official should not be allowed to use that inside information for his or her personal benefit or for that of persons to whom he or she is connected.
This rule also applies in the private sector. Years ago, US business tycoon and TV homemaker personality, Martha Stewart, was accused of insider trading after she dumped thousands of stocks in a pharmaceutical company in which she had an interest.
This sale occurred one day before the Food and Drug Administration disapproved the sale of a major product of the company, a decision which forced the price of the shares to collapse, Stewart was charged but was not found guilty of insider trading. Instead she was convicted of obstruction of justice.
Public officials should not be allowed to use information they have obtained in the course of their work, for personal enrichment. They should not be allowed period to enjoy any Government contract even if it is outside of where they work.
The mere fact that they are a public official carries influence which can prejudice, in their favour, the award of a public contract or concession. Once you are a public official you should be prevented from applying for public lands or mining concessions.
Public servants are there to serve the public not themselves. Therefore there can be no objection to restrictions being placed on them enjoying access to land and concessions. If a public official wants to be a land owner, miner or contractor, then that person should resign their position.
If the government is serious about ensuring integrity in public office, it would institute and make lawful and enforceable a code of conduct, which should apply to both Ministers and public servants and which outlaws the acquisition of certain types of property (or business interests) during their tenure as public officials.
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