For an administration that made “good governance” the centerpiece of its campaign platform this goal has remained perennially elusive with general elections just around the corner in a matter of months. For four and a half years the Harris-led coalition administration has made the excuse that this focus on good governance is the reason why not much has been achieved in other important policy areas such as the economy, healthcare, crime and social development.
With the announcement of the resignation of Mr. Damian Kelsick, Chairman of the Integrity in Public Life Commission, who was appointed to the post in October 2018, the last hope for any semblance of positive change or improvement to the good governance institutional framework under the Harris administration, has been extinguished. No reason has yet been given for Kelsick’s resignation. This latest development could have been said to be more or less inevitable, if not predictable, given the fact that Mr. Kelsick has for some months now, been complaining about the lack of the necessary financing for the Commission to perform its work and to do so effectively.
Two months ago, in March 2019, Chairman Kelsick told national media that the Integrity in Public Life Commission was without adequate funds, and the order for the submission of declarations by public officials was not yet in place.
“At this point, we’ve gotten our first tranche of the funds that government has allocated. In the 2019 budget, the government allocated EC$350,000 dollars which apparently, in accordance to government practice, is dispersed quarterly, so we got the first quarter of that which is $87, 500 dollars. Not adequate by any means for the task that we have to perform to get up and running but we’re going to work with what we have in the meantime and continue to request that government disperse more funds,” Mr. Kelsick said at the time. The allocation fell far below the EC$1 million budget that was requested to fully finance the Commission’s needs.
He told national media that while the Commission had held weekly meetings since October 2018, the three commissioners were essentially volunteering their time and skills since the quarterly tranches could not meet the expenses identified to operationalize the office, much less pay the salaries of its Commissioners and staff. He also exposed the fact that the Attorney General had yet to pass the regulation that would establish a deadline for public officials to submit financial disclosures to the Integrity in Public Life Commission for them to actually begin their assessments. Without the Order from the Attorney General, there was literally no work for the Commission to do.
Attorney Kelsick’s going public with the funding issue prompted a tongue-lashing from Prime Minister Timothy Harris in the National Assembly, where the Prime Minister, in typical Harris-style, essentially blamed Kelsick for not preparing a proper budget and submitting it on time. Dr. Harris said at the time, that the Commission “could not expect funds to be made available on demand”.
The resignation of the Chairman has made it virtually impossible for the Commission to function and to do any meaningful work over the course of the next few months. It confirms that the Harris-led Team Unity Government continues in play lip service to issues of transparency, good governance and accountability, with no real plan to carry through on their campaign promises in this regard.
The failure of the Integrity in Public Life Commission is the latest in a series of falling dominoes that continue to undermine the good governance structures of St. Kitts and Nevis: the Freedom of Information Act has been passed but never operationalized; the Public Accounts Committee has been rendered toothless with the passage of the new Public Accounts Act; the civil service and police force have been politicized more than ever before experienced; the Office of the Ombudsman remains defunct; Opposition access to state-owned media remains extremely limited; the proposed Campaign Finance legislation has never been passed. When measured against its own scorecard which is set out in its 2015 Manifesto, Team Unity has failed miserably on the issue of good governance, this, without even considering the overt acts of corruption, nepotism and victimization that have become the hallmarks of its one-term legacy.