The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration – currently under scrutiny for alleged corruption in office – joined the six other political parties who faced the electorate last May to appear Friday before the Joint Selection Committee of Parliament that is gathering recommendations for the proposed Integrity in Public Life Bill 2018.
During the six-hour public hearing in the Senate Chambers chaired by Attorney General Dale Marshall, newly-elected DLP General Secretary Guyson Mayers, flanked by President Verla DePeiza, said the proposed legislation would be ineffective on its own.
“Legislation of this nature cannot really be effectively discussed without accompanying regulations. There is a need for ‘how-to’ provisions to accompany the broad legislation or the bill that is proposed. It is important in any discussion therefore of this Integrity Commission proposed by the bill for us to have an idea as to how the commission will carry out its work and therefore be able to comment on the likelihood of its effectiveness,” said Mayers who lead off the party’s oral submission.
He also argued that if the bill is passed into law without the accompanying regulations, it would remain dormant for a long time.
He suggested that the 1929 Anti-Corruption Act which is the law of the land would be still useful today were it not for its penalty provisions. Mayers noted that even in the new bill, the penalties were not a deterrent.
“The penalties contained in the bill are not dissuasive. The maximum penalty anywhere in this bill is $20,000. Compare this with penalty provisions with other relevant existing legislation. Section 79 of this bill seeks to ensure that information gathered is treated confidentially – very noble, a very good thing to do. It carries a penalty, though of a fine of $5,000 or two months’ imprisonment. A similar offence in the Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism Prevention and Control Act carries a penalty of $100,000 or five years’ imprisonment,” he stated, adding that a person convicted of money laundering on indictment is subject to a fine of two million dollars or imprisonment for 25 years or both.
He said this comparison starkly underlines the inadequacy of the penalty provision in this bill.
Committee member Wilfred Abrahams MP later pointed out that the committee has already acknowledged the need to increase the penalty which he promised would be significant.
The DLP is also urging the committee to reconsider the provision in the bill that involves the Governor General in some aspect of the inquiry, review relaxing the rules in the Evidence Act, and place the code of conduct for public officers in a more primary place in the bill.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Barbados (ICAB) also made a presentation to the Select Committee with President Andrew Brathwaite cautioning the committee and Integrity Commission that the proposed requirement for public officers to file their financial affairs every two years with the Commission, has been problematic in other Caribbean countries.
“In Jamaica for example, of 224,000 declarations due for filing for the years 2003 to 2015, 85,000 or 35 per cent remained outstanding in 2016. During 2015, however, only 93 delinquent public servants were reported to the Director of Public Prosecution for court action and only 47 were brought before the court,” Brathwaite noted, adding that the number of required filings in Barbados is likely to be significantly lower than in Trinidad and Jamaica.
ICAB is comfortable that the requirement to file the declarations every two years instead of annually, would alleviate some of the challenges experienced in Trinidad and Jamaica without materially reducing the effectiveness of the measure, he said.
“We are pleased as well that the legislation provides for publication in the Official Gazette and in a daily newspaper of the names of specified persons in public life who have failed to file declarations or furnish such particulars as requested,” Brathwaite told the committee.
He is recommending that the form of the declaration of financial affairs should be published for public comment before the Joint Committee concludes its work and that a detailed list of the specified persons in public life should be published well in advance of its [bill] enactment to remove any uncertainty about who is required to file.
The ICAB president asked the committee to consider the institute’s proposal that the commission should be given the discretion to apply to the High Court for it to order public officers who have been allowed the six-month extension and still refuse to file, to do so.
In the Integrity Barbados movement’s contribution, spokesperson Alicia Archer suggested that the whistle-blower provisions should not be limited to public officials.
“Public officials do not corrupt themselves, they do not bribe themselves. And therefore, there must clearly be a private sector counterpart who is the left hand if the public official is the right hand. There is therefore no good reason that we have found for the limiting of the whistle-blower provisions to public officials only,” Archer said.
She said the provisions as currently drafted, provide no external motivation, either through reward or otherwise, for anyone to put their mortgage, their plane trips to Miami on the line in order to bring this information to light. “If there is no information, what is there to be investigated. If there is no investigation, what is there to be prosecuted? If there is no prosecution there can be no deterrent… and therefore people will feel free to continue doing as they like secure in the knowledge that the legislation is ineffective,” she pointed out.
“The whistle-blower provisions need to be extended to any, and all persons however they may come by the information and not simply be limited to the very narrow class of public officials,” suggested Archer.
She also urged the removal of that part of the bill on disclosure which she contended could be used as a weapon to undermine whatever protections are afforded by the legislation by creating subsequent laws indicating that it is an offence to disclose X or Y.
The Integrity Barbados spokesperson also recommended that in order to facilitate disclosure by whistle-blowers or other concerned citizens, simplicity of language in the bill needs to be key. “So that the disclosure should really be made directly to the commission and not to the multiplicity of persons outlined in several different sections of the Act,” Archer added.
Recommendations were also made by leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP) Lynette Eastmond, head of Solutions Barbados Grenville Phillips, leader of Kingdom Government of Barbados Steve Hunte and his counterpart from the New Kingdom Alliance Lynroy Scantlebury.