Without calling any officials by name, Prime Minister Mia Mottley today said she was prepared to grant immunity to those who served under the former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration and were involved in malfeasance.
But while terming it a “come to Jesus moment”, Mottley said during parliamentary debate on her Government’s draft Integrity in Public Life legislation, that those who knew they were guilty of such corrupt behaviour, must be prepared to come forward and confess to their crimes.
“I say to those today through you Sir, that the Attorney General is available to take and listen to anyone in this country who recognizes that there is a come to Jesus moment that ought to happen for some people in this country and that pending the passage of the legislation that they may want to do a sealed statement and give it to the Attorney General,” she said, while insisting that she was not seeking vengeance or engaging in any witchhunt.
At the same time, she made it clear that her administration was not willing to tolerate corruption and that “immunity does not extend to today’s transgression or tomorrow’s”.
“I appeal as leader of this country to those who knew that they helped participate, because it takes two hands to clap . . . so I ask Sir, that persons examine their consciences and persons recognize that this Government is prepared to give people the opportunity to come forward, ask for forgiveness and let us move forward,” she said in leading off this morning’s debate in the House of Assembly on the bill, which was tabled by Attorney General Dale Marshall last week.
She further warned: “If there are others who are part of the same transaction who choose not to come forward and they are found out, well, they will feel the full weight of the law as the law is to be determined, because as I said at the beginning, there is one law in the country [but] what we will not do is look to find tens of millions of dollars to go on a witchhunt.”
She also revealed that investigations had already begun, adding that once the evidence came before the Attorney General, the institutions and people who “have taken the country for a ride” would be punished.
“It must never happen again,” Mottley insisted, while explaining that “I am not saying corruption will not find itself in the national landscape, . . . but what I am saying is that the wholesale plundering that took place with the fiat of a Government must never happen in this country again.
“We are not trying to be sanctimonious, but we are trying to lay a line in the sand and we are simply saying, Sir, that there are standards. To whom much is given much is expected,” she said in reference to her less than two month-old Government which came to office here following the May 24 general election in which the DLP was swept from power.
Earlier this month, as he introduced the integrity bill in Parliament, Marshall had accused former ministers of the previous DLP Government of corruption, while warning private sector officials not to engage in bribery and other corrupt practices.
“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 had said to sustained applause.
But while supporting that position, Mottley insisted today that though people must pay a price for their actions, they also deserved a second chance and should not be “condemned to purgatory forever”.
The former criminal lawyer stressed that those who came forward would most likely be treated with a level of leniency even though she said the population felt aggrieved because of the “all-out plundering and the extent to which public institutions no longer resemble what they ought to because of activities that took place” under the former administration.
“They are angry because they have had to bear a burden while seeing all of this unfold and I struggle at night because I remember in the book of Romans, ‘vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord’. [However], this is not about vengeance, but this is about setting a line in the sand for accountability,” she said.
“While we must make sure there is accountability, without doubt this Government must never become so obsessed with anything that approaches a level of vengeance that it forgets to do what it has to do to move the people of this country forward in a way that is sustainable,” she added while pointing out that a number of contracts that were “egregious in the extreme” were signed in the last few months leading up to the May elections.
Mottley said it was her intention to approach this matter through a civil process in order to lessen the liability to Government.
“Therefore, we have already asked people to walked back from some of these contracts because we cannot afford them. There are still others that I said we are about to do and negotiate with because we need people to walk away from them, to forbear, to move off, to take them from the balance sheets as a contingent or real liability because the country can’t bear the weight,” she said.
Promising that she was going to “restore collective responsibility and not just ministerial responsibility”, Mottley also gave an indication that she would not allow members of her administration to speak “wildly in conflict with each other and wildly in conflict with Cabinet”.