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Code of Conduct for Public Officers

Sunday, October 24 2010

We continue our discussion on Codes of Conduct for persons in public life, with an examination of what constitutes the code of conduct for Public Officers.

Unlike other codes, the code of conduct for Public Officers is legislated and forms part of the law of the land. This means that a breach of the Code is either a breach of the laws of Trinidad and Tobago or subsidiary legislation, and the relevant criminal, civil court or disciplinary procedures are initiated with such a breach.

It also means that a number of disciplinary processes are triggered when such breaches occur.

The code covers all public officers defined in the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago as “the holder of any public office and includes any person appointed to act in any such office”.

The Code also requires prompt reporting of any officer charged with a criminal offence.



General behaviour and

comportment

The overarching theme of the code is that an “officer’s conduct shall be such at all times as not to bring the Service into disrepute”, and it challenges public officers to “discharge the duties of the office to which he is appointed” with integrity, promptly and effectively.

An important aspect of this overall requirement is the requirement that “an officer shall not “directly or indirectly be involved in any financial or other interest or undertaking which could compromise that officers job performance or office”, and where such an occurrence arises the officer is required to inform his Permanent Secretary or Head of Department.

The onus is then on the Permanent Secretary to determine “the nature or degree of compromise and decide on an appropriate course to resolve it”.

The officer is entitled to appeal to the Public Service Commission where he is aggrieved by the decision of his Head of Department.



Public criticism of Government policy

Another important aspect of the general behaviour of public officers is the requirement that public officers do not respond to questions of public policy by way of remarks that are critical of such policy, which remarks may call into question his ability to impartially implement, administer or advise on Government policy.

As with all other codes of conduct the Civil Service Regulations details behavioural requirements for public officers with regards to the acceptance of gifts, whether legitimate or otherwise, and of course, attempts at bribery.



Fiscal Prudence

The Code also requires personal fiscal prudence on the part of officers, and prompt reporting to the Permanent Secretary or Head of Department, where the officers personal finances are thus compromised.



Acts of misconduct

There is a very detailed description of what constitutes acts of misconduct by public officers, including acts that are prejudicial to the “efficient conduct of the service” or that tend “to bring the Service into disrepute”; improper use of “any property or facilities provided for the purposes of the Service”; participation in meetings “of any political organisation, while on duty, while on official business, or while wearing official uniform.”



Disciplinary Procedure and Penalties for Breach of

the Code

The disciplinary procedure associated with breaches of the code of conduct is spelt out in the Public Service Regulations 85 and 90. They range from one man tribunals to full tribunals. The process for the conduct and decision-making in these tribunals is fully spelt out in these regulations.

When a party is found guilty, the penalties to be applied are found in Regulations 135 — 150 for civil servants.

All penalties are ultimately determined by the Service Commissions and One-Man Tribunals acting under delegated authority.



Summary

In summary, the code of conduct for public officers in the civil service sets the standard that is required of these officers in delivering service to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. Breaches of the code are met with stiff penalties which are intended to act as a deterrent for such breaches.

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