December 2022 exposed a practice that questioned the effectiveness of one of the anti-corruption measures instituted in accordance with the Public Life Act. That act guides the actions of public servants in Grenada while the “gift registry” is one of the accountability mediums for people who hold public office.
It was in December 2022 that Richard Duncan, Chairman of the Grenada Citizenship by Investment Committee returned a “Christmas gift” to Bo Xu, Chief Executive Officer, Mt Hartman Development Ltd. In the return to sender letter, Duncan explained that “The value of the above-mentioned items is incongruent with the Grenada Citizenship by Investment code of business conduct and ethics policy.” There is no evidence that such a policy was ever published in gazette as part of the Public Life regulation but Section 45, Sub-section one of the Integrity in 2013 Public Life Act says, “A person in public life shall not accept any gift or reward from any person.”
Lawyer Gillian Bristol who was appointed as the third chairperson of the Integrity Commission said the Public Life law provides guidance, but the onus is on the person in public life to conduct themselves “so they will not breach what is in the Act.”
Referring specifically to Section 45 subsection 2(b) of the legislation, Bristol says out that the one exception that accepting a gift from a “dignitary” to ensure that a foreign officer is not offended. Bristol said that the law provides for that gift such gift must “to be registered with the Commission”.
Despite the limitation, the act says that a public officer can accept gifts from:
(a) a community organisation on a social occasion which represents the creativity of that organisation; and
(b) a foreign dignitary, where the person in public life has reasonable grounds to believe that the refusal to accept the gift may offend the foreign dignitary”
The Public Life Act also instructs, that a person in public life who accepts a “gift or a reward” “shall make a report to the Commission of that fact in the prescribed manner within seven days of the receipt of the gift.” There is much uncertainty about the number of gifts given to, received or refused by public officials since the gift registry became operational in 2019. Bristol says that despite guidance within the law, the Integrity Commission cannot go around “policing people.”
“When you become a person in public life you become a person with great responsibility…if you receive a gift that triggers a question in your mind, you have to ask a question, the integrity commission cannot be policing people,” Bristol lamented.
“We cannot go around to the 33 categories of persons which comes up to thousands of people and say everyday have you received a gift. It’s really up to them to come to us and the law does not require them to come to us, except under one circumstance,” Bristol said.
As for Duncan’s refusal of the monetary and other gifts many Grenadians viewed Duncan’s action as a stance against corruption. Others saw it as “shaming” a private company whose directors are from a territory where “red envelopes” gifts is a common practice around the “festive seasons”.
Because of public discussion on media platforms about Duncan’s, the Integrity Commission issued a statement explaining that “a gift registry measure” established in 2019 was not triggered because the gift was returned.
“The Commission was duly informed that in the exercise of his discretion and guided by the Integrity in Public Life legislation as well as internal policies,” the commission said, “There was, therefore, no need to trigger the Commission’s Gift Registry system at this time,” the release added.
The Gift Registry Requirement
The gift registry regulation was established in 2019. It requires all public officers and people in public life to register any gift valued more than EC$500 or US$185. As a guide to public officers the Integrity Commission published eight circulars aimed at educating public officers about accepting and refusing gifts.
Circular Number One (1) says, “Notwithstanding, a person in public life may accept a gift or reward, in certain circumstances, it is for this very reason that a Gift Registry is established, so that Public Officials may be guided.”
This circular posted on the Integrity Commission’s website says that the Gift Registry “sets out our responsibilities in observing and upholding our national, legal and policy positions on bribery and corruption.”
It further explains that “The acceptance of gifts or gratification creates a conflict of interest between an employee’s private interests and their public duty.” Additionally, the circular says that the Gift Registry “ensures that the integrity and responsibilities of persons in public life are not compromised or perceived to be compromised; in other words, it acts as a deterrent.”
Despite these guidelines, a review of the annual reports of the Integrity Commission for the years 2020 to 2022 shows that there has been little compliance among people in public life while a small percentage of public institutions declared gifts received.
As of the end of 2022 there were five disclosures about gifts. Four of these were from the Royal Grenada Police Force and one from the Department of Public Administration. All these disclosures were made in the year 2020 or within the first year of enforcement. The report did not share details of the gifts.
Evidence of Receiving Gifts from Government Ministers
In the last quarter of 2022, several government ministers who following the June 2022 general election became people in public life shared photographs on various mediums of them receiving gifts but the 2022 annual report of the Integrity Commission did not recorded these gifts as being declared to the Office of the Integrity Commission.
Based on the photos, most of these gifts were from dignitaries and representatives from CBI approved projects. Other than Richard Duncan’s letter, there is no other public evidence on the record of a gift or gifts being return to sender.
“We don’t know if people were approached directly and they accepted (gifts),” said a former member of the Board of the CBI Committee.
Most of these photos were published on the personal pages on social media and in press releases. Adrian Thomas who is the Leader of Government Business in the Upper House and Junior Minister for Agriculture is seen receiving a blue gift box. Then there is a photo of Dennis Cornwall who is the Member of Parliament for St Patrick East and the Minister for Infrastructure and public utilities also receiving his gift from the Chinese Ambassador. In May 2023 Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell received a gift from a Saudi Arabia delegate. None of these gifts were declared.
Former Government Ministers Say Gifts Received was Under EC$500
Several former government ministers and advisors confirmed receiving gifts under EC$500. These gifts were not declared since they were under EC$500.
“I was not accepting gifts above that amount so I did not have to report it to the Integrity Commission,” says former Prime Minister Dr Keith Mithcell who currently serves as Opposition Leader. He says that he does not accept personal gifts.
Former Minister Gregory Bowen who became responsible for finance in 2020 and previously served as Minister of Infrastructure Development, Public Utilities, Energy, Transport & Implementation when questioned about complying with the gift registry requirement said, “I did not receive any gift of substance, mainly coffee, tea, drinks which my secretary packed away in a cupboard in the ministry, none I believe reached EC$500. I never saw these as personal gifts,” Bowen added.
Other former government ministers who have had to declare their assets to the Integrity Commission also admit receiving bottles of wine and other alcoholic products, invitations to dinners on state travel and even payment for airfares. None of these were declared to the Integrity Commission.
Gifts to Political Organizations
The Public Life Act captures anti-corruption measures for people in public life and as a result non-governmental organisations such as those involved in political or religious work are excluded from applying the regulations even though some of the people involved in the operation of these organisations are people classified as public life officials
As a result, questions have been raised about financial and other gifts such as vehicles and other tangibles items given to political organizations. There are no campaigning financing laws or regulations in Grenada. Thus it has become very challenging to confirm whether public officials are channeling gifts to political parties and political support groups.
“We are hearing about gala and gala in the diaspora that our government ministers are attending, who are sponsoring and funding these trips,” said Francis Pierre, a retired public servant who hosts a radio show on current affairs.
“I think this need to be declared publicly, that gift registry should be busy with gift declarations of the type, and it need to be made public in the interest of transparency and transformation, these things should not be hidden from the public in this transformation era,” he said.
“The lack of campaign financing laws can be detrimental of upholding transparency, we have no laws governing campaign financing, so what can happen is that an individual or company can contribute to a political campaign without worry,” Michael Baptiste, a former member of Parliament and government minister said.
“They don’t have to give the gift to a person in public life. So, I will say that it’s time we have campaign financing laws in the interest of transparency because the public need to know who is funding political organizations,” he said.
“I do believe that anything that is given to public officials should be in the public domain – whether it’s a personal valuable gift or a gift to the state, I think that the gift registry should be made public so there will be some transparency,” Baptiste added.
While on the June 2022 election campaign Dickon Mitchell in his then capacity as Political Leader of the National Democratic Congress called for the enactment of campaign financing laws. However, after one year in office there is no discussion on the issue.
“If we had laws that limited for example the amount of funding that any individual could give to a political party, if we had laws that said that a political party will have to report every cent that it got in donation and sponsorship, our politics will change overnight,” said Mitchell on the election campaign.
Following the 1999, 2003, 2008, 2013, 2018 and 2022 general elections, the Organization of America States Election observers have recommended that Grenada enact campaign financing legislation.
When Grenada enacted anti-corruption laws and established the Integrity Commission back in 2007 it was described as a “wind of change” as it pertains to public officials who are often accused of engaging in corruption practices for financial gains.
These financial gains can be directly or indirectly, and it was against this background that the gift registered was created. The requirement should not only be one on paper but one that is enforceable without bias or prejudice especially those who are mandated to declare assets.
The asset declaration form should have a section requesting the listing of all gifts valued from EC$1 with the date and name of the gift giver. Fighting corruption will require difficult decisions. It should not be enforced for some and not for others.
Grenada’s 2007 anti-corruption law provides a definition for corruption and a closer look and scrutiny of the law will without a doubt raise concern as it pertains to gifts and contributions for public officials. The time has therefore come for Grenada to enact Beneficial Owner and Election Financing Campaigning laws if we are to earnestly identify and expose those who we believe strive with “under the table” standard operating procedure.