By Marlon Madden
Lawmakers are about to take another shot at passing anti-corruption legislation – this time, adding future judges, directors of public prosecution, and auditors general to the list of high-ranking individuals in public office who will have to declare their assets.
Word of this has come from Attorney General Dale Marshall, who disclosed during a post-Cabinet media briefing at Ilaro Court on Friday that the revised Integrity in Public Life Bill was approved by Cabinet on Thursday and will be laid in Parliament next Tuesday.
In an almost immediate reaction, Chairman of Integrity Group Barbados (IGB) Andy Armstrong welcomed the news.
“It is very good so we are very happy to hear it is going back to the House [of Assembly]. We were worrying that maybe it had just fallen off the priority list, but we are very happy to see that it is being reintroduced early in this year. It is good news,” an elated Armstrong told Barbados TODAY.
The call for judges to be among officials captured in the bill was made by, among other people, independent Senators back in August 2020 when the bill fell four votes short of the required two-thirds majority to pass. Senators had also raised concerns about the absence of whistleblower provisions.
Marshall said while he understood the sentiment behind bringing judges under the legislation and the importance of demonstrating that “no one is above the law”, there were some constitutional limitations that prevented existing judges from being included.
“We think that we have reached a reasonable compromise. In my view, it would be distinctly unconstitutional . . . to try to impose these obligations on our current judges, but there is nothing wrong with imposing them on future appointed judges as a condition of their appointment.
“Therefore, the bill as Cabinet has approved it and as it will be laid in Parliament on Tuesday will obligate future appointed judges, future Directors of Public Prosecution, future appointed Auditors General [to declare their assets].
“So, individuals who come to these offices after the passing of the bill will be subject to the requirements of the Integrity in Public Life legislation. I think that is the only way of addressing it, but to have tried to impose it on the current holders of any of these offices would be to breach their constitutional protection and we simply did not want to flirt with that,” the Attorney General explained.
Armstrong, whose organisation had also called for judges to be required to declare their assets, told Barbados TODAY he was happy they would be included going forward.
“We didn’t have any issues with the Director of Public Prosecution and Auditors General, but I think that is a good idea because – and this is not to imply that any of them are dishonest – it would make incoming people more careful in the posts to make sure they do the correct thing. So we are certainly very happy to see judges included and we don’t have any issue with the other ones,” he said.
Marshall pointed out that there were a few other “minor elements” about which the Senate had raised concern and changes have been made to address those.
“So, I am satisfied that the bill as presented today will satisfy not just what we require but will satisfy the requirements of a Senate now past. I can’t say what view the current Senate will take on it; we simply have to see how that goes,” he said.
In any event, he said, the reintroduction of the bill should serve as “an important signal” to everyone that the Government was serious about holding politicians and other officials in high public office to “the highest possible standards when it comes to integrity in public life”.
Marshall, who was accompanied by Minister of Home Affairs Wilfred Abrahams at the media conference, explained that the delay in the reintroduction of the highly anticipated Integrity in Public Life Bill was largely a result of the COVID-19 pandemic which started to affect the island in March 2020.
“Even though we could have brought it back, you might remember that Parliament was prorogued very shortly thereafter and, therefore, the bill as it stood died with that particular sitting of Parliament,” he recalled.
Marshall added that several changes had to be made, including to some wording of the bill as a result of the island’s transition from a constitutional monarchy to a republic in 2021.
“So, a number of things have happened in the interim. We have changed the bill to reflect the change from a monarchical system to our current republican style and we have addressed those issues that were of importance to the Senate,” he said.
The Attorney General noted that while the country has witnessed some improvements in its ranking in the Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by global body Transparency International, the Government was aware that the anti-corruption law governing conduct in public life was vital.