Member of Parliament for Christ Church East Wilfred Abrahams today sought to explain a noticeable difference in the fines listed in the draft Integrity in Public Life legislation when compared to those proposed by the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) when it was in Opposition.
Speaking in Parliament during debate on the measure, Abrahams said the changes were made by the parliamentary draftsperson responsible for preparing the bill for presentation in the two houses of Parliament with a view to ensuring that the fines were consistent with other domestic penalties.
“Those fines were changed by the CPC [Chief Parliamentary Counsel] without reference to the [drafting] Committee or to the Attorney General”, the BLP spokesman said while pointing out that nowhere in the draft were the original penalties proposed by the BLP drafting team.
“The CPC being the good officer she is and doing her job, sought to bring them down and harmonize them with what existed in the legislation.
“It is not that we backed down from it,” he explained.
“It [the draft] was laid [in the House] before we caught ourselves and the mistake was then discovered,” he said, telling the House that once the error was discovered there was the option of pulling the proposed legislation and give instructions to correct it or deal with the mistakes within the appropriate select committee of the House.
“We did not wish to waste any further time in getting this legislation through the necessary steps in this House,” Abrahams said while pointing to an earlier assurance by Attorney General Dale Marshall that the error would be corrected.
Abrahams, who was part of the drafting team comprising Sir David Simmons, QC, as advisor; Leslie Haynes, QC; Dale Marshall, QC; Ralph Thorne, QC; Edmond Hinkson and Stuart Mottley, assured Opposition Leader Joseph Atherley, who had queried the change in fines, “there is no subterfuge [or] no deception [and that] the law will go back to what it was when it was drafted.
“The heavy fines will stay in. And those who run afoul of this legislation will be prosecuted as intended to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.
Further explaining the CPC’s thinking behind the changes made, Abrahams said, “legislation has to be harmonious. Fines must bear some sort of relation to other offences”.
“In the rest of the laws in Barbados there were no fines like this for any comparable criminal offence, so those fines were adjusted down by the CPC to bring them in line with what existed in the legislation of Barbados,” he said.
Abrahams, a former president of the Bar Association said, “if I am convicted for something under this Act I can . . . appeal on the grounds that the fines are disproportionate, that they’re much harsher than anything else that exists in the law”.
But he said that in the drafting process, the team’s position was, “we don’t care. Let the people feel the wrath and let them appeal and deal with it then. We need to show we are serious”.
He said that at the time of commissioning the team to draft the legislation, “our instructions were simple from the now Prime Minister of Barbados … to make the bill tight that nobody can wriggle out. No ambiguity.
“Make the powers of the [Integrity] Commission wide. Allow them to do whatever they need to find, trace and punish corruption in public offices. Make the penalties painful,” he stressed, adding that “when we drafted, the penalties that were put in there were higher than anything existing in our current legislation . . . [or] any other penalties found for similar legislation in the Caribbean.
“We put in the hardest and highest [penalties],” he insisted.