Attorney General Dale Marshall today openly accused former ministers of the previous Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government of corruption.
And without identifying anyone by name, Marshall said enough for persons to deduce where his investigation was headed, as he promised to do everything in his power to bring those culpable to justice.
At the same time, he sought to warn private sector officials not to engage in bribery and corrupt practices, while insisting that those who pay bribes were just as guilty as those who accept them.
“For so long as I am Attorney General of this country I intend to strain every sinew of mine to the point of breaking. I intend to engage every agency of the Crown, either in Barbados or outside of Barbados. I intend to do everything that I can to bring the perpetrators of that dishonest activity to heel,” Marshall said to sustained applause as piloted the Integrity in Public Life Bill in Parliament on Tuesday.
The bill was one of the critical pieces of legislation which the Mia Mottley led Barbados Labour Party (BLP) had promised to introduce during the campaign for the May 24 general election, in which the BLP was swept to power with a mammoth 30-nil victory.
Reflecting on the DLP’s ten-year reign before its spectacular ousting, Marshall said there were many whispers of corrupt practices involving several politicians, as well as bribes being paid by some individuals and business people for various services “whether a contract, licence or permit”.
The Attorney General also charged that several Government contracts were not subjected to a tendering process, despite costing in excess of $200,000. In this regard, he singled out multi-million-dollar contracts for the building of housing units and for the construction of a berth at the Bridgetown Port.
Marshall also highlighted the contract awarded to a private firm to rebuild transmissions for the Transport Board, while insisting that “two ministers of the last administration were driving, and are still driving two BMW 5 series vehicles that are registered to that company that received $28 million of Transport Board taxpayers funds within a contract and without going to tender over the last two years”.
Suggesting that these individuals were warned “time and time again”, Marshall also recalled that certain individuals were called before the Public Accounts Committee to give evidence in relation to the National Housing Corporation, but said nothing had come of that inquiry.
He also revealed that prior to the May 24 election, approximately 160 taxi and ZR permits were issued, with some people complaining that they had to pay out as much as $10,000 to get them.
“I feel that these things need to be looked at, they need to be investigated.
“We need to tear back the wall, tear back the vaults and look at the paperwork and see what was going wrong. It will take courage,” Marshall said, adding that besides legislation and fines, there was a need for a change in mindset.
“So they need to take warning Sir. They need to take warning. I know that people can find all kinds of ways to try to hide everything. We know that. But we also know Sir, that in time . . . every single one of those individuals who we can identify, they are going to have to give an explanation to the people of this country as to how they came by those ill-gotten gains, and prove to the people of this country that they were come by honestly,” the Attorney General said.
He said while there was no effective method of finding out what they went to office with and what they left with, “inferences can be made”, adding that some went into office with “significant debt”.
“The courts are going to be involved and I want to say that they have already begun to put together a team of individuals to advise and to help direct the process. And let me say that this work will not be done by public servants. I have got the permission of the Prime Minister [Mia Mottley] to engage such skills as I need from outside of the public service and even from outside of Barbados to be able to help us to ferret out the incidences of corruption in Barbados that we know about, but for which we have no proof,” said Marshall, who warned that if the issue of corruption were not quickly addressed it stood to wipe out any gains associated with the country’s economic progress.
Among other features, the legislation provides protection for whistleblowers; makes provision for those going to public life to declare their assets and do the same upon their exit; makes provision for an investigative staff to be put in place; and includes penalties including jail time and fines for individuals found guilty.
Marshall said the new law would be accompanied by Freedom of Information legislation, while pointing out that work of the Select Committee would be done during the summer period in order to have the integrity bill enacted and enforced before the end of this year.
Opposition Leader Joseph Atherley, who crossed the floor immediately after the May 24 general election, said while he lauded Government for sticking to its promise and its swiftness in bringing the legislation, he questioned the level of seriousness after some fines under the new law were lowered from $500,000 and $250,000 to $20,000 and $10,000.
Atherley also called for Government to address policies and practices relating to public procurement and contracts, campaign financing, enhanced justice delivery and for legislation to make provision for cross border prosecution.