A rare open hearing of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament on the proposed Integrity in Public Life Bill 2018 was warned today that the legislation alone would fail to keep politicians honest.
The warning came from Sir David Simmons, the former parliamentarian, cabinet minister and attorney general under several administrations of the governing Barbados Labour Party who rose to become Chief Justice of Barbados.
But as he addressed the parliamentary committee, Sir David spoke as the man who helped establish the Turks and Caicos Islands Integrity Commission he currently chairs.
The former Chief Justice, one of two eminent persons making oral submissions to the Committee in the Senate Chamber, recommended that an Integrity in Public Life Act must be part of a package of related laws in order for it to get the job done of fighting corruption.
“This legislation must be part of a package. It cannot exist on its own. It cannot adequately do the job. We agree that there must be a code of conduct developed which must provide for sanctions for breach of the code,” said Sir David.
“You need a code of conduct, but more particularly… I would like to suggest, you need legislation to regulate campaign financing of political parties…and you need a Freedom of Information Act. I think those two, plus the code of conduct and this legislation [Integrity in Public Life Bill] as a suite of legislation will ensure that Barbados has taken proper steps towards providing minimum standards for good governance and the conduct of persons in public life,” the leading Caribbean jurist told the Select Committee chaired by Attorney General Dale Marshall.
He recommended a sliding scale of sanctions, instead of the automatic dismissal of corrupt government ministers or judges which is required under the British overseas territory’s constitution. He suggested such penalties should include a reprimand or suspension.
Sir David stressed that Barbados needed to get its house in order for the treatment it is likely to face from the international financial sector including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with regards to corrupt practices.
He added there was no time for Barbados to turn back in its quest to tackle corruption and should follow the examples of countries such as Jamaica, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago and Turks and Caicos which have Integrity Commissions.
“Corruption is attracting the attention of world leaders and the international financial institutions. The Summit of the Americas was held in Peru in April this year and the hot topic was how governments can combat corruption at the highest level throughout the Americas and that would include us. In the same month of April this year.
“The International Monetary Fund that we are dealing with now, promulgated a framework for enhanced engagement with countries on governance and corruption issues. And the objectives, according to the release from the IMF is to ensure that issues of corruption are dealt with ‘systematically, effectively, candidly and in a manner that reflects uniformity of treatment’,” said the former Chief Justice.
The IMF will begin to comment on actual or perceived corrupt practices in a particular country when it conducts its usual Article IV reviews, he predicted.
“It behoves us to start to put our house in order to align ourselves to the rest of the world and the best practices that are being developed to enhance good governance,” Sir David said.
But in a frank declaration, Sir David blamed the private sector for corruption in Government.
“Corruption in the public sector is a direct consequence of willing greedy and corrupt persons in the private sector. There is big money in Government contracts, everyone knows that. And where legislation for election campaign financing is non-existent and public procurement legislation is toothless, I don’t think it is fanciful to suggest that financiers of election campaigns of parties expect that if the donees of their funds are successful they would have access to lucrative Government contracts,” he contende.
The ex-judge also made a strong case for whistleblower legislation with provision to protect the informants, a major public education programme to ensure the widest possible buy-in and much stiffer penalties that would deter potential corruption.
The other oral submission was made by Head of Management Studies at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Dr Philmore Alleyne, whose doctoral thesis was on whistleblowing.
Dr Alleyne, who also taught governance and ethics at the Cave Hill Campus, shared some of the findings of a 2017 study he conducted on behalf of the UWI on corruption.
He said 89 per cent of respondents believe there is political interference in business and the judiciary.
“There is also belief that there is pervasive corruption and fraud in business and Government. There is also a belief that Government is perceived as not being accountable and transparent,” the senior university lecturer told the Joint Select Committee, which includes the Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley and Opposition Senator Caswell Franklin.
Dr Alleyne also found that people saw Government as not being serious of tackling corruption. Without naming former Minister of International Business Donville Inniss, who is currently facing US money laundering allegations linked to alleged bribery, the academic pointed to the case as another reason for Barbados to have integrity legislation.
Heartened that Government was taking a bold step in seeking full stakeholder participation in the final drafting of the Integrity in Public Life Bill, he nevertheless said that its implementation and enforcement remained a concern, he said.
He agreed with Sir David’s suggestion for a public education campaign to address the negative perceptions in the public domain concerning politicians and business people.
He told the hearing that just before coming before the Committee, he carried out a cursory survey among some members of the public and discovered that people felt it was just a talk shop.
But Committee members Senator Lisa Cummins and Ralph Thorne MP said this was far from the truth, pointing to Dr Alleyne’s own submission and the invitation to all stakeholders to take part.
The UWI lecturer agreed to make his research available to the Committee and promised to return to the parliamentary body if needed.
He also sided with Sir David’s call for stiffer penalties in the legislation, a mechanism to protect confidential information, the expunging of the record of declared assets after a public official has left office and greater vetting of appointments to the Integrity Commission.
At the end of the three-hour session, which was carried live on television and streamed on the Parliament’s website, the Chairman of the Joint Select Committee Dale Marshall announced that 14 entities or individuals had made written submissions and seven of them would appear before the body.
The Democratic Labour Party, which held office until the May 24 election heads the list of organizations expected to address the Joint Select Committee, along with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Barbados (ICAB), the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, the Mens Education Support Association (MESA), the Office of the Ombudsman and the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) Financial Intelligence Unit.
The hearing was adjourned until Friday, September 7th at 1.30 p.m. (EJ)