By Marlon Madden
A revamped Integrity in Public Life Bill went before Parliament on Tuesday outlining heavy fines for those found guilty of an offence under the legislation and a threat of disqualification from holding public office by guilty parties.
“Specified individuals” face the possibility of being fined as much as $50,000 or in some cases, they can be jailed for up to one year, if they are found guilty of an offence. Similarly those individuals captured under the bill could face a fine for failure to report a gift worth over $2,500.
These provisions are outlined in the revised piece of legislation which was laid in Parliament on Tuesday, and will now include incoming judges of the Supreme Court, directors of public prosecution and auditors general.
According to Section 17 of the legislation, an individual who fails to file a declaration without reasonable cause is guilty of an offence and is liable to a fine of $50,000.
An individual who fails to comply with a directive given by the Integrity Commission or the President to place all or part of their assets in a blind trust based on “reasonable grounds”, can also be fined $50,000.
Specified individuals under the legislation include members of the House of Assembly and the Senate, members of the Cabinet, Permanent Secretaries and heads of departments in the public service and holders of public office in the same grade as heads of departments.
A specified person may also refer to chief executive officers, general managers and other executive heads of state-owned enterprises, chairpersons of state-owned enterprises, magistrates and senior officers of the commission.
“A member of the House of Assembly or the Senate who, without reasonable cause, fails to file a statement of registrable interests that he is required to file, is guilty of an offence and is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine of $50 000,” it added.
The bill also outlines that, “A member of the House of Assembly or the Senate who knowingly files with the Commission a statement of registrable interests that is incomplete or false in any material particular is guilty of an offence and is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine of $50 000 or to imprisonment for one year or to both.”
The legislation further states that where a member of the House of Assembly or the Senate fails to comply with an order under specific sections of the bill within a specified period, the offence shall be deemed to be a continuing offence “and the member shall be liable to a further fine of $3 000 for each day on which the offence continues”.
A member of the House of Assembly or the Senate who is convicted of an offence under section 17 or 20 of the bill “is liable, in addition to any other penalty prescribed by law, to be disqualified from holding any public office for a period of 10 years from the date of conviction for the offence”, according to the legislation.
The law also makes provision for the yet-to-be established Integrity Commission to “make rules prescribing the circumstances in which the acquisition by a specified person in public life of an interest in a contract with the Government or a state-owned enterprise is prohibited.”
According to the proposed legislation, “No member or employee of the commission shall be liable to any action or suit for any matter or thing done by him in good faith as a member or employee of the commission or in the exercise of his functions or the course of his employment, as the case may be.”
Section 23 makes provision for individuals captured under this law who receive a gift worth more than $2,500, or whose spouse or child receives such a gift, to make a report of it to the Integrity Commission using the appropriate form.
The legislation states that individuals “shall state in the report the name and address of the donor, the description and approximate value of the gift and whether, in the opinion of the recipient, the gift is a personal gift or an official gift.”
“This section does not apply to a personal gift received by a specified person in public life from a relative or friend,” it said.
“A specified person in public life who is unsure whether a gift received from a relative or friend is a personal gift or an official gift may apply to the commission seeking an opinion as to the proper classification of the gift,” it added.
The bill further outlined that where the commission finds that a gift was given to a specified person in public life personally and it was “trivial, or it was not trivial but was not intended to be a motive or reward for doing or forbearing to do anything in the course of the discharge of his official functions or for causing any other person to do or forbear from doing anything, the commission shall allow the specified person in public life to retain the gift”.
However, where a specified person in public life who, without reasonable excuse fails to comply with Section 23 of the law, he or she “is guilty of an offence and is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine, which shall not be more than three times the value of the gift involved in the commission of the offence”.
If an individual makes an incomplete or false report in relation to the receipt of gifts, they shall also be found guilty of an offence “and is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine, which shall not be more than three times the value of the gift involved in the commission of the offence or to imprisonment for six months or to both.” [email protected]