Tuesday, 8 June 2010

While we are at it

We continue to be focused on the war against crime in Ja. I maintain that while we are at it, and as we give thought to the new policies and practices that must be implemented, we must not overlook the matter of thorough accountability. This, even from persons who are, or will be, at the helm of watchdog institutions.

In a recent letter to the editor, I expressed this concern. The editor opted for it to remain unpublished. I did not.


June 1, 2010

"The Editor, Sir:

I came upon an article that was recently published in The Globe and Mail and I was left shaking my head in amazement. Quite recently, amidst, and, perhaps to some extent, motivated by the new “war on crime”, there have been calls for “a few good men and women” to rise to the occasion” and take up certain positions of leadership; men and women in whom the public can, with assurance, repose its trust. The call has gone out primarily for individuals who would be elected to these positions. These trustworthy, hardworking and integrity-filled persons would therefore be the privileged few to occupy the Lower House and (if many get their wish for them to be elected as well) those of the Upper House.

While we make this call, perhaps we might also give thought to ensuring that the individuals who occupy the leadership positions of our public offices/agencies/boards/bodies are similarly outfitted with the requisite abilities and virtues. Yes. Virtues. For, while we undoubtedly hold many of our present crop of public leaders in high esteem, what would be helpful as we undertake this corporate and prolonged introspection as a nation, is to give serious thought to these requirements as we move forward. This, not only for the sake of accountability and the interest of the taxpayer, but also to keep the moral authority of the public office-holder sound. It is no secret that it is nigh improbable to repair a damaged reputation when the damage has been self-imposed.

Consider the case of the Ombudsman of Ontario who is seeking a third term. He has won the admiration of many Ontarians, to the delight of whom he has “exposed misuses of government power, pointing out shortfalls in the province’s property-assessment and career-colleges systems that harmed citizens or allowed a private few to benefit.” The Ombudsman’s website provides information on the investigations that have been completed; speeches that are true testimonies to the scathing and, oft times, vitriolic rebuke that he metes out to the offending (Gov of Ontario) ministry.

Yet, as the G&M puts it, he has been “tripped up by an inconvenient penchant for charging apparently private expenses…” Whereas the amounts in question may have been deemed rather insignificant, the Ombudsman, being “Ontario’s watchdog” has a special responsibility. He, along with others with others in similar oversight positions, cannot get away with a do-as-I-say-but-not-as-I-do approach. The G&M reports that the Ombudsman “misused the powers of his own office, with little accountability at all, essentially approving many of his own expenses. His moral authority as the public’s crusader and protector has been compromised.” He contends that the spending was legitimate but that doesn’t seem to be cutting it.

Of course, there are those who will come out swinging and shouting from the roof tops that the real issue is being overlooked here; that the real issue is the empowerment of these oversight bodies – to give them ‘teeth’ - so they can, in real terms, help to stem the tide of corruption; that we should stop trying to undermine those who have demonstrated the courage to take up thankless jobs that require a strong spine, broad shoulders and thick skins. But that doesn’t make this issue any less real, does it? Surely, even with the above being true, there is still room to carry out the necessary checks and balances. For example, is there proper legislative control to prevent/stop inappropriate expensing? And we are not talking only about personal expensing but, as well, lavish and wasteful expenses to modernize their offices, to keep-up-with-the-corporate-Joneses, and enhance their comfort at work. These cannot be the very same individuals who reprimand and rebuke other agencies for wasting taxpayers’ money.

Until this issue is also seriously considered, then the roof-top cries for ‘teeth’ are only “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I am, etc.,

Cee Dubya"


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