Prime Minister David Thompson Fails To Have His Ministers Adopt His Promised “Ministerial Code”
On January 3, 2008, the DLP declared in writing a promise to adopt a “Ministerial Code” – that they described as a “code of ethics and procedural guidance for persons who assume ministerial office in a new DLP government. Its purpose is to clearly define the framework within which the bond of trust between the Government and the people of Barbados should be established…”
The DLP also declared in writing that “The Ministerial Code takes effect immediately after a DLP government is elected.”
“Immediately” was in contrast to some other integrity initiatives that were promised within a 100 day time frame. It is also important to note that the Ministerial Code does not have to be passed as a law, and could simply be adopted and declared by the Cabinet to say “This is what is expected of Government Ministers. We declare this code to be our standard of conduct.”
In some jurisdictions where such Ministerial Codes are in place, Government Ministers are required to sign a copy of the code to show their acknowledgment and acceptance of the standards.
Prime Minister Thompson And His DLP Goverment have failed to adopt their Ministerial Code as promised.
When There Are No Rules – Anything Is Acceptable
You can view the promised Ministerial Code at the end of this article, but one of the standards it sets concerns the important issue Government Ministers receiving gifts from persons who do business with the government…
“g. Ministers should avoid accepting any gift or hospitality which might, or might reasonably appear to, compromise their judgement or place them under an improper obligation;”
This standard is of vital importance as it recognizes that even the appearance of possible wrongdoing is grounds for dismissal from a Ministerial post. If adopted as the standard, never again will a corrupt politician be able to say “You lack the hard evidence to show that I took a gift in exchange for other consideration.”
If this “appearances count” standard is adopted, there will be no more government ministers borrowing a corporate jet for a shopping trip to Miami or New York.
No more land sold to politicians for a fraction of the real value. No more year-old Mercedes auto showing up in a Cabinet Minister’s driveway and the neighbours saying, “Didn’t that used to be owned by a construction company executive? Don’t they do work for the government?”
There are no integrity standards because Prime Minister David Thompson, his Cabinet and the Democratic Labour Party have not done what they said they would do.
Government Ministers Operating With No Code Of Conduct, No Standards
When David Thompson and the DLP introduced their integrity promises at the last moment of the campaign – cut and pasted from an online source only days before – we were skeptical and we said so. (See BFP’s David Thompson Reveals DLP’s Integrity and Freedom Of Information Plans – Much Cut and Pasted From The Internet Only A Few Days Ago)
Then we heard David Thompson speak and he told us that he meant what he said. We believed him, and on January 6, 2008, Barbados Free Press endorsed Thompson and the DLP by publishing our article Dear Mr. Thompson, We Believe You Will Do It…
Yet, here we are almost two months after David Thompson became Prime Minister. The government is operating at full steam. Cheques are being written and corporations are lining up to obtain government work. Contracts are being signed… And still the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and all Government Ministers are operating without the Ministerial Code and standards that they promised to adopt “immediately”.
Now that they have achieved power and hold the country’s cheque book in their hands, David Thompson and the DLP government refuse to implement standards that will prevent them from using their office for personal profit.
Prime Minister Thompson and others have also made statements indicating that the promised “100 days” deadline for integrity and freedom of information legislation may not happen and that revamping the defamation law is no longer a priority.
If Prime Minister Thompson and the DLP Government continue down this path, they will totally discredit themselves in a matter of a few weeks.
Here is the promised Ministerial Code…
1/ “The Ministerial Code – A Proposal” DRAFT
(Revised December 15, 2007)
THE MINISTERIAL CODE – A PROPOSAL
1. The following pages contain a proposal for a draft code of ethics and procedural guidance for persons who assume ministerial office in a new DLP government. Its purpose is to clearly define the framework within which the bond of trust between the Government and the people of Barbados should be established. The Code which has been adapted from the United Kingdom Ministerial Code.
THE MINISTERIAL CODE
2. Ministers of the Government are expected to behave according to the highest standards of constitutional and personal conduct in the performance of their duties.
3. This Code provides guidance to Ministers on how they should act and arrange their affairs in order to uphold these standards. It lists the principles which may apply in particular situations. It applies to all Ministers of the Government, and covers Parliamentary Secretaries.
4. Ministers are personally responsible for deciding how to act and conduct themselves in the light of the Code and for justifying their actions and conduct in Parliament.
5. Ministers only remain in office for so long as they retain the confidence of the Prime Minister. He is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a Minister and the appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards, although he will not expect to comment on every allegation that is brought to his attention.
6. The Code should be read against the background of the overarching duty on Ministers to comply with the law, including international law and treaty obligations, to uphold the administration of justice and to protect the integrity of public life. They are expected to observe the Seven Principles of Public Life set out in the appendix to this document, and the following principles of Ministerial conduct:
a. Ministers must uphold the principle of collective responsibility;
b. Ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their ministries, departments and agencies;
c. It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament. Any inadvertent error should be corrected at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister;
d. Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public in providing information except where disclosure would be detrimental to the public interest as determined by the relevant statutes;
e. Ministers should similarly require civil servants who give evidence before Parliamentary Committees on their behalf and under their direction to be as helpful as possible in providing accurate, truthful and full information in accordance with the duties and responsibilities of civil servants;
f. Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests;
g. Ministers should avoid accepting any gift or hospitality which might, or might reasonably appear to, compromise their judgement or place them under an improper obligation;
h. Ministers must not use government resources for Party political purposes. They must uphold the political impartiality of the Civil Service and not ask civil servants to act in any way which would conflict with the accepted code of behaviour of civil servants.
MINISTERS AND APPOINTMENTS
Appointments by Ministers
7. The Prime Minister should be consulted in good time about the appointment or re-appointment of the Chairman and members of statutory boards and agencies.
8. In all such cases, the Prime Minister will need to be informed about the particular requirements of the post, the attributes essential for a candidate and the extent to which candidates meet such requirements. In particular, the Prime Minister should be informed of other factors bearing upon the appointment of particular candidates (e.g. potential conflicts of interest that may arise) and all other relevant information.
MINISTERS AND CIVIL SERVANTS
9. Ministers have a duty to:
a. Give fair consideration and due weight to informed and impartial advice from civil servants, as well as to other considerations and advice, in reaching policy decisions;
b. Uphold the political impartiality of the Civil Service, and not to ask civil servants to act in any way which would conflict with the Civil Service Code;
c. Ensure that any influence over appointments is not abused for partisan purposes; and
d. Observe the obligations of a good employer with regard to terms and conditions of those who serve them.
10. Civil servants should not be asked to engage in activities likely to call in question their political impartiality, or to give rise to the criticism that people paid from public funds are being used for Party political purposes.
The role of the Accounting Officer
11. Under section 18 (1) of the Financial Management and Audit Act, the Director of Finance and Economic Affairs designates the persons who shall be Accounting Officers. The essence of the role is a personal responsibility for the propriety and regularity of the public finances for which he or she is responsible; for keeping proper accounts; for the avoidance of waste and extravagance; and for the efficient and effective use of resources. Accounting Officers answer personally to the Committee of Public Accounts on these matters, within the framework of Ministerial accountability to Parliament for the policies, actions and conduct of their Ministries/Departments.
12. Accounting Officers have a particular responsibility to see that appropriate advice is tendered to Ministers on all matters of financial propriety and regularity and more broadly as to all considerations of prudent and economical administration, efficiency and effectiveness and value for money. If a Minister in charge of a Ministry is contemplating a course of action which would involve a transaction which the Accounting Officer considers would breach the requirements of propriety or regularity, the Accounting Officer will set out in writing his or her objection to the proposal, the reasons for the objection and the duty to inform the Director of Finance and Economic Affairs and the Auditor General should the advice be overruled. If the Minister decides nonetheless to proceed, the Accounting Officer will seek a written instruction to take the action in question. The Accounting Officer is obliged to comply with the instructions, send relevant papers to the Director of Finance and Economic Affairs and the Auditor General, and inform the Accountant General of what has occurred. A similar procedure applies where the Accounting Officer has concerns as regards the value for money of a proposed course of action. The procedure enables the Committee of Public Accounts to see that the Accounting Officer does not bear personal responsibility for the actions concerned.
Civil servants and Party Conferences
13. Ministers should not ask civil servants to attend, or take part in, Party Conferences or meetings of policy or subject groups of any political party. In their official capacity, civil servants should not accept invitations to conferences convened by party political organisations.
MINISTERS’ CONSTITUENCY AND PARTY INTERESTS
14. Ministers should not use for Party or constituency work facilities provided at Government expense to enable them to carry out their official duties. Ministers should ensure that expenses for constituency work are not charged to the public purse.
15. Government property should not generally be used for constituency work or party activities.
16. Where Ministers have to take decisions within their Ministries/Departments which might have an impact on their own constituencies, they should, of course, take particular care to avoid any possible conflict of interest.
MINISTERS’ PRIVATE INTERESTS
17. Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise.
18. It is the personal responsibility of each Minister to decide whether and what action is needed to avoid a conflict or the perception of a conflict and to defend that decision, if necessary by accounting for it in Parliament. The role of the Permanent Secretary is to ensure that advice is available when it is sought by the Minister, either by providing it personally, drawing on precedent and if need be other parts of government including the Secretary of the Cabinet, or to arrange for expert or professional advice from inside or outside Government. In cases of serious difficulty or doubt the matter may be referred to the Prime Minister for a view. But ultimately it is the responsibility of Ministers individually to order their own private lives in such a way as to avoid criticism, and the final decision about what action to take to achieve that is theirs.
19. Where it is proper for a Minister to retain a private interest it is the rule that he or she should declare that interest to Ministerial colleagues if they have to discuss public business which in any way affects it and that the Minister should remain entirely detached from the consideration of that business. Similar steps may be necessary if a matter under consideration in the ministry, department or agency relates in some way to a Minister’s previous or existing private interests such that there is or may be thought to be a conflict of interest. Particular care needs to be taken where financial interests are involved.
20. Personal information which Ministers disclose to those who advise them must be treated in confidence. Should the Ministry receive a request for this information it will take account of a range of factors including the confidentiality of the information. The relevant Minister will also be consulted and his or her views taken into account before a decision is made on disclosure. If an allegation is made that a particular Minister has a conflict of interest it must be for that Minister to explain his/her position and justify what has been done. In doing so, they may wish to make public the list of their private interests and the steps taken to avoid an actual or perceived conflict. It is open to them if they wish to confirm (if it is the case) that they have consulted their Permanent Secretary in accordance with the Code. The Minister should however consult the Permanent Secretary about the content of any such statement before making it to ensure that there is agreement about the content, and any disagreement should be referred to the Prime Minister.
21. The intention of these procedures is not to inhibit the holding of Ministerial office by individuals with wide experience, whether of industry, a profession or some other walk of life, but to ensure that systemic steps are taken to avoid the danger of an actual or perceived conflict of interest.
22. When they take up office Ministers should give up any other public appointment they may hold, except where the Prime Minister determines that the retention of such an appointment would be in the national interest.
23. Ministers should take care to ensure that they do not become associated with non-public organisations whose objectives may in any degree conflict with Government policy and thus give rise to a conflict of interest. Hence Ministers should not normally accept invitations to act as patrons of or otherwise offer support to pressure groups, or organisations dependent in whole or in part on Government funding. There is normally less objection to a Minister associating him or herself with a charity (subject to the points above) but Ministers should take care to ensure that in participating in any fund-raising activity, they do not place, or appear to place, themselves under an obligation as Ministers to those to whom appeals are directed (and for this reason they should not normally approach individuals or companies personally for this purpose). In any case of doubt, the Prime Minister should be consulted before a Minister accepts an association with such bodies. Ministers should also exercise care in giving public support for petitions, open letters etc.
24. There is no objection to a Minister holding trade union membership but care must be taken to avoid any actual or perceived conflict of interest. Accordingly:
a. Ministers should arrange their affairs so as to avoid any suggestion that a union of which they are a member has any undue influence;
b. They should take no active part in the conduct of union affairs, should give up any office they may hold in a union; and should receive no remuneration from a union; but
c. Ministers may make payments purely to protect future pension rights, if they have been employees of a Union.
25. Ministers must scrupulously avoid any danger of an actual or apparent conflict of interest between their Ministerial position and their private financial interests. In order to avoid such a danger, they should be guided by the general principle that they should either dispose of any financial interest giving rise to the actual or apparent conflict or take alternative steps to prevent it. The Permanent Secretary as Accounting Officer has a personal responsibility for financial propriety and regularity across the Ministry’s business, and his or her advice must be given particular weight where such issues arise.
26. Two particular ways in which a conflict of financial interest, or the perception of it, can arise are as follows:
a. From the exercise of powers or other influence in a way that does or could be considered to affect the value of interests held; or
b. From using special knowledge acquired in the course of their Ministerial activities in ways which bring benefit or avoid loss (or could arouse reasonable suspicion of this) in relation to their private financial interests.
27. Apart from the risk to the Minister’s reputation, two legal obligations must be born in mind. Any exercise or non-exercise by a Minister (including a Law Officer) of a legal power or discretion or other influence on a matter in which the Minister has a pecuniary interest could be challenged in the courts and, if the challenge is upheld, could be declared invalid.
28. If for any reason the Minister is unable or unwilling to dispose of a relevant interest, he or she should consider, with the advice of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry and, where necessary, an external adviser what alternative measures would sufficiently remove the risk of conflict. These fall into two types: those relating to the interests themselves, and those relating to the handling of the decisions to be taken or influenced by the Minister.
29. Unless adequate steps can be taken in relation to the financial interests, the Ministry must put processes in place to prohibit access to certain papers and ensure that the Minister is not involved in certain decisions and discussions. The extent to which this can be done depends on the specific powers under which the Minister would be required to take decisions.
30. Ministers who are partners, whether in professional firms, for example solicitors, accountants etc, or in other businesses, should, on taking up office, cease to practise or to play any part in the day-to-day management of the firm’s affairs. They are not necessarily required, however, to dissolve their partnership or to allow, for example, their annual practising certificate to lapse. Beyond this it is not possible to lay down precise rules applicable to every case; but any continuing financial interest in the firm would make it necessary for the Minister to take steps to avoid involvement in relevant decisions.
31. Ministers must resign any directorships they hold when they take up office. This applies whether the directorship is in a public or private company and whether it carries remuneration or is honorary. The only exception to this rule is that directorships in private companies established in connection with private family estates or in a company formed for the management of apartments of which the Minister is a tenant may be retained subject to the condition that if at any time the Minister feels that conflict is likely to arise between this private interest and public duty, the Minister should even in those cases resign the directorship. Directorships or offices held in connection with charitable undertakings should also be resigned if there is any risk of conflict arising between the interests of the undertakings and the Government. It is a well established and recognised rule that no Minister or public servant should accept gifts, hospitality or services from anyone which would, or might appear to, place him or her under an obligation. The same principle applies if gifts etc are offered to a member of their family.
Acceptance of gifts
32. This is primarily a matter which must be left to the good sense of Ministers. But any Minister in doubt or difficulty over this should seek the Prime Minister’s guidance. The same rules apply to the acceptance of gifts from donors with whom a Minister has official dealings in this country as to those from overseas, that is:
a. Receipt of gifts should be reported to the Permanent Secretary;
b. Gifts of small value (say, up to $250) may be retained by the recipient;
c. Gifts of a higher value should be handed over to the Ministry for disposal, except that:
(1) The recipient may purchase the gift at its cash value (abated by $250);
(2) If the Ministry judges that it would be of interest, the gift may be displayed or used in the Ministry;
(3) If the disposal of the gift would cause offence or if it might be appropriate for the recipient to use or display the gift on some future occasion as a mark of politeness, then the gift should be retained in the Department for this purpose for a period of up to five years;
d. Gifts received overseas worth more than the normal travellers’ allowances should be declared at importation to Customs and Excise who will advise on any duty and tax liability. In general, if a Minister wishes to retain a gift he or she will be liable for any tax or duty it may attract.
33. Gifts given to Ministers in their Ministerial capacity become the property of the Government and do not need to be declared.
The Seven Principals of Public Life
Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.