21 October 2007

Act tougher against errant senior officials

The Star

THE Anti-Corruption Agency is understood to be finalising investigations involving some senior government officials in at least two ministries, as mentioned in the recent Auditor-General’s report.

Once more, it is disappointing that more public officials have been implicated in issues of graft. However, conscientious work by the ACA should make up for some loss in confidence, esteem and morale that charges of corruption inevitably bring.

It should not matter that senior officials have been implicated, other than the obvious wastage of human resources implied. All public officials must always be accountable to the public interest, and so long as the ACA conducts its investigations professionally, its findings must be respected and acted upon.

Government officials know what is expected of them in the discharge of their duties. They also know, or at least should know, that their actions must always be above reproach and seen to be so. Anything less or suspect invites and deserves an inquiry.

The current investigation concerns the overpricing of equipment purchased, and covers the prospect of conflict of interest in the award of contracts for the purchases. ACA investigations need to look into various related aspects to ascertain the culpability of the individuals concerned.

If the charges are proven against these individuals, justice demands swift and judicious action against them. But if the investigation clears any suspects, their status should also be made clear. ACA actions must always be lawful and ethical at every stage.

All proper investigations need to arrive at distinct, unambiguous findings. There should not be any “grey areas” any more than “no go areas”, because the ACA must not be impeded in its work. Any attempt to distract or deflect its investigations is itself an offence.

In the process, the seniority of suspected individuals must never be an obstacle to investigations or to sentencing upon conviction. On the contrary, the more senior the public official who is charged and convicted, the more severe the penalty should be.

Senior officials are not only expected to understand the consequences of their actions better, they are also held in greater trust and esteem by colleagues and the public. Natural justice requires stronger punitive and deterrent action against their wrongdoing.

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