Barbadians have been given the assurance that Government is working assiduously to track and prosecute public servants found to be involved in corruption at any level.
It has come from Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Dale Marshall, who for the second time brought the Prevention of Corruption Bill before Parliament.
Marshall said the original legislation had been brought to the Chamber in January, 2020.
However, he said following the defeat of the Integrity in Public Life Bill in the Senate that legislation was never passed.
“There was a Prevention of Corruption Bill before Parliament. It was on our Order Paper in 2020. The plan was to complete the work on the Integrity in Public Life Bill and then immediately after, pass the Prevention of Corruption Bill. Well we all know that the Integrity in Public Life Bill was defeated in the other place and then Parliament was immediately prorogued so this particular piece of legislation died with the last sitting of Parliament,” Marshall noted.
The AG said the Bill brought before Parliament today had been further strengthened.
He said even though it may appear nothing was being done to deal with corruption in Barbados significant progress had been made.
He also promised that the Integrity in Public Life Bill would be back before the Lower House by the end of October, while another piece of legislation to protect whistleblowers would be laid by the end of September.
“I know that a large number of Barbadians expected and still expect that they would get a pound of flesh. They expected then and they still expect that individuals will be dragged before the courts and they have expressed to me and to others a disappointment in this administration not having been able to achieve that particular aim within the time that has passed so far,” Marshall said.
“We are the Government and the buck stops here. I want to assure Barbadians that notwithstanding that they may not have seen any charges brought against anybody, please be aware that that process is continuing. There are a number of investigations of corruption that have taken place in Barbados since we came to Government and they continue.”
According to the AG, a number of “high-powered” specialists, some from as far as Australia, had been hired in 2019 to begin the process of examining the state of affairs at a number of Government’s statutory bodies.
He said that team had prepared a report and a work plan that had been presented to Government last year.
He lamented the fact that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had delayed their return to the island to conclude their work.
“Let me say that our efforts in investigating acts of corruption continue. Investigations are held, are conducted but they are not conducted in public glare. They are painstaking, they take time, they take precision. I give you the assurance that that work continues,” he said.
He said even with the help of specialists, corruption was still difficult to prove.
The AG pointed to the Trinidad and Tobago government, which brought in 30 specialists to unearth corruption but had only been able to bring one charge to date.
Noting that the current Corruption Act dated back almost 100 years to 1929, Marshall described the new Bill as “modern” and said it would form the centerpiece of a whole suite of legislation aimed at cutting out corruption.
“When you ask how are we dealing with the issue, the first thing that we are doing, we are investigating yes, but the first thing we are doing is to put a new piece of legislation on the table,” he said.
“We talk about a suite of legislation and I remind you that it isn’t a single piece of legislation that will equip our legislative arsenal, it will be a whole set of pieces, all of which combined puts Barbados in a good position going forward, puts Barbados in a position where we will have a credible response to acts of corruption.”
Among one of the major changes proposed is harsher penalties for those found guilty of corruption.
Marshall said while the old legislation only allowed for a maximum fine of $2 400, the new legislation allowed for fines of $500,000, 10 years imprisonment or both in the Magistrates’ Court, or $1.5 million, a term of imprisonment for 15 years or both in the High Court.
Marshall said those heavy sentences would serve as a deterrent.
He revealed that persons who gave false information would also be prosecuted.
The AG said both Integrity Barbados and the Barbados Bar Association had been consulted on the Bill and Government had been guided by the United Nations Convention against Corruption.