Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley has questioned some aspects of the Integrity in Public Life Bill, which he says has changed considerably since it was initially proposed by the then Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
Speaking during debate on the measure in the House of Assembly today, Atherley explained, “When this party was in Opposition, it sent out a draft bill for public scrutiny and comment, and that document called for heavy fines of up to $500,000 and/or five years in jail, along with $250,000 on summary conviction and/or two years for those who ran afoul of the anit-corruption legislation or were seen to facilitate corrupt practices.
“But now it is here before Parliament, those fines have been reduced to $20,000 and $10,000, and I echo the fears of John Public which might believe that we are not entirely serious about this,” Artherley said, while cautioning the Mia Mottley led BLP administration that “you cannot provide legislation outlining breaches and then mete out fines that constitute no more than a slap on the wrist”.
He was also concerned about the fact that Attorney General and Member of Parliament for St Joseph Dale Marshall did not spell out why there was such a significant reduction in the penalties.
However, Marshall subsequently sought to assure Atherley and all and sundry that the changes to the penalties were made in error and would therefore be corrected.
During his contribution to the debate, the Member of Parliament for St Michael West also warned that any legislation dealing with integrity had to consider “public access to information, along with policies related to public procurement, the awarding of public sector contracts and private and public sector joint ventures, because, as we have seen in the past and recent past, policy and practice are sometimes very distant cousins, and I would like to hear how some of the provisions in this present bill will address this matter”.
The Opposition Leader, who was elected in the May 24 election on a BLP ticket but immediately crossed the floor of the Lower House, said campaign financing was another major issue that had not been properly addressed in Barbados, explaining that from as far back as 2003, he had noticed a new and disturbing trend of political figures joining forces with the criminal element, especially those in the drug trade, “in a quest for financial support and ‘turf’ in terms of a voter base”.
Atherley also pointed out that this practice had caused serious trouble in neighbouring Jamaica and other countries over the years.
“When you have links being developed between those two, you are creating an evil the likes of which there is no equal. When politicians look for turf and financial support from certain elements who want to protect their turf, then we are in serious trouble.
“It is a dangerous thing for politicians to be in the pockets of legitimate businessmen, but even worse if they are on the payroll of criminals who corrupt our democratic institutions.
“Political figures must always appreciate that we have been given a high sense of responsibility that we must execute in the most upright way possible,” he stressed in his contribution, which garnered thumps of approval from the Government side.
Atherley was pleased to see that the legislation spoke to freedom of information and independence in terms of the bodies set up to investigate incidences of corruption, but said he hoped they would stick to this provision since “in the Caribbean we tend to set up institutions and create entities that do not enjoy the freedom they are supposed to.
“If we are serious about this, we have to make sure whatever mechanisms we put in place are truly independent, and citizen participation is another important element we must consider in any legislation of this nature,” he said, while also stating that a contractor general was needed to ensure greater oversight of the award of state contracts.