Parliament has passed the Integrity in Public Life Act (2020) meant to deter and punish corruption by politicians and senior public officers, as well as chairmen, and high-ranking managers of state-owned enterprises.
Held up for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the reviews of a select committee, debate on the legislation resumed on Tuesday and was piloted by Prime Minister Mia Mottley in the House of Assembly. She labelled the anti-corruption legislation a significant development in the island’s governance.
It comes after the unprecedented conviction of former St James South MP Donville Inniss in the United States on money laundering charges that involved an insurance company and a state agency.
But the new legislation, the groundwork for which was laid by the former Democratic Labour Party administration, will mandate the declaration of assets by all Members of Parliament, members of the Senate, Cabinet, Permanent Secretaries, all heads of departments within the Public Service and holders of public office in the same grade as well as those who head departments, chairpersons of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), chief executive officers, general managers and other executive heads of SOEs, magistrates and Directors of Public Prosecution, the Auditor General, members and senior officers of the soon-to-be established Integrity Commission.
The anti-corruption legislation, Mottley said will not at this stage, include judges of the High Court and Appeal Court.
Stressing that systems must be put in place to keep people accountable, the Prime Minister and Member of Parliament for St Michael North East said those expected to comply with the Act will be required to submit their declaration of assets to the Cabinet Secretary who will have the declarations held securely in a vault before being handed over to the Integrity Commission when it is officially created.
Mottley told Parliament Tuesday it was expected that the Integrity Commission would be fully established by 2021 and that training would be conducted for all those impacted by the legislation.
In her contribution, the Prime Minister said however, it was important that persons were “not made criminals” for regulatory breaches, such as late filings, and that there should be a clear understanding of what was a regulatory breach for which fines would be imposed and a substantive breach of the anti-corruption laws for which violators could face much harsher punishments.
“Regulatory breaches ought not to be confused with substantive breaches of corruption [laws],” she told Parliament.
“Regulatory breaches for now are intended to be covered by fines and penalties until such time as the Attorney General brings to this Parliament, the papers on civil penalties so that we can leave imprisonment for what imprisonment ought to be left for.”
Expressing hope that the legislation would not be held up in the Senate, Mottley said the 843-page report of the Joint Select Committee showed her administration was not afraid to introduce the ground-breaking legislation.
Insisting that this new chapter in Barbados’ governance history “will not be easy or comfortable”, Mottley told the Lower House there would be a gestation period of nine months to provide training and to establish the Integrity Commission.