The party which finished a distant third in the May 24 general election is accusing the ruling Barbados Labour Party of attempting to create “an unaccountable police state” here with the introduction of the Integrity in Public Life legislation.
Solutions Barbados said that the Bill, which is still being debated in Parliament, was rife with loopholes that could allow the guilty to get away while removing established protections for the innocent.
Referring to the section of the legislation that deals with the powers to be ascribed to the proposed Integrity Commission, the party suggested the proposed entity appeared to have more power than the police and judiciary, and could use this power in a “politically partisan manner.
“Whoever controls the Commission can clear their guilty friends and punish their innocent perceived enemies with impunity,” Solutions Barbados leader Grenville Phillips II charged in a statement released over the weekend.
According to Government, the legislation seeks to establish a regime, including an integrity commission, to promote the integrity of persons in public life. Also at the heart of its design is the strengthening of measures for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of acts of corruption.
The measure allows for the Commission to be treated as a law enforcement agency for the purposes of receiving disclosures of information, which are relevant to its functions from any law enforcement agency, including a foreign law enforcement agency. The Commission is also allowed to issue warrants and has an investigative officer with the power to arrest persons, deliver them to the custody of the police and retain any documents or materials that the officer thinks is relevant.
However, in his analysis of the 83-page measure, Phillips suggested some sections allowed for the commission to pick and choose the cases it wishes to investigate.
“According to Section 21A, the panel can dismiss the complaint, regardless of the evidence, if they think that it was made in bad faith. They can also dismiss it if they think that an investigation or further investigation is not necessary or reasonably practicable. These can easily be used as loopholes to facilitate the politically partisan behaviour of a rogue investigative officer,” he wrote.
The leader of the struggling political party, which secured just 4,188 votes in the election, nearly 30,000 fewer than the Democratic Labour Party, and has since lost some of its candidates in less than amicable resignations, charged that under section 10.3 of the proposed legislation, “the Commission may, if it thinks fit, receive oral or written evidence, but it is not bound by the rules of evidence in the Evidence Act Cap. 121, and it may take into account opinion evidence and such facts as it considers relevant and material.”
He therefore questioned whether Government was attempting to lower the burden of proof to determine the guilt or innocence of persons accused of corruption while in public office.
“The Commission is not restrained by the rules of the Evidence Act which were designed to protect all of us. The Commission can take into account opinion evidence, which the Evidence Act restricts. While it is reasonable that opinion evidence may be relied upon during the investigation phase of the process, the Bill should clearly state that the Commission must not rely on any opinion evidence to determine someone’s guilt,” Phillips said, while going on to question the manner in which whistle-blowers were bring incentivized in the Bill.
“The section for whistle-blowers is extremely weak to the point of being almost ineffective. There is no confidential reporting and no financial incentive for whistle-blowers, the proven main ingredients of an effective whistle-blower programme. In the US, their highly successful Securities Exchange Commission’s programme allows whistle-blowers to report anonymously, and rewards them with up to 30 per cent of the amounts recovered,” he stressed.