Opinion: Integrity

POSTED: 08/23/13 2:35 PM

The government has embarked on an integrity program, as we have heard from Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs Wescot-Williams this week. But what exactly does it entail? On the government web site, we found for starters the (government) definition of integrity. That goes as follows:

“Integrity is a conscious choice of an individual or organization to consistently act according to applicable rules and regulations, norms, culture, values and ethical standards regulated by law and society’s values.

To be more specific, an individual civil servant can act according to the principles of integrity prescribed in the LMA, Code of Conduct and other applicable rules and regulations.

The government organization can operate according to the principles of integrity which are regulated in integrity legislation in keeping with the principles of good governance.”

That is a start, of course, but we feel that there is something missing. What do we have to understand for instance by “values and ethical standards regulated by law”? Does this mean that values and ethical standards that are not regulated by law do not fall within the definition?

In case readers think we are splitting hairs here we’d like to point out that traditionally written rules and regulations have been the guideline for the behavior of politicians and members of the civil service. It almost comes down to an attitude like, “It is not forbidden, therefore it is allowed.”

Integrity goes further than what has been established by law. It is a personal thing. Integrity is about honesty and about doing a job the way it is supposed to be done without discriminating between family and friends and the next guy.

We all know what integrity is, but behaving accordingly is, let’s say, a challenge for some people. That will not change with any integrity-program or with the establishment of an integrity bureau. The way water flows to the lowest point, people’s behavior will be driven by their personal needs – and that is where they often come into conflict with the principles of integrity.

The government also put its integrity vision for the period 2012-217 on its web site. That goes as follows:

“The government of Sint Maarten within the next five years, aspires to a higher level of commitment throughout the entire organization and at every level, towards improving the level of integrity throughout the public service in the execution of its duties as an accountable government, operating in accordance with the integrity policy of Sint Maarten and the principles of good governance.

The government of Sint Maarten continues to support the development of a well-trained, honest, reputable, impartial, structured public service, rooted in the principles of integrity, capable of professionally serving and meeting the constitutional needs of the citizens of Sint Maarten.”

Note that the government aspires to something.  That term expresses a strong desire, a great ambition. But the ultimate objective of this ambition remains a bit too superfluous to our taste: “a higher level of commitment.”

What exactly is that supposed to mean? That the civil service ought to do better than it is doing now – that seems to be a safe assumption. But how much better? That remains a mystery.

The integrity program is a journey, not a quick fix and we understand that. Above all it is a matter of a mindset and for that, civil servants do not need extensive training – they just have to flip a switch. Treat others the way you want to be treated yourself sounds like a reasonable point of departure.

Did you like this? Share it:
Opinion: Integrity by