WHITHER PROMISED INTEGRITY LEGISLATION FOR BARBADOS??
The Democratic Labour Party of Barbados in its 2008 Manifesto promised to “immediately introduce Integrity Legislation requiring a declaration of assets by public officials and a code of conduct for Ministers”. Indeed, the DLP made the absence of such legislation after thirteen years of governance by the Owen Arthur administration one of the major issues during the last general election campaign, as it sought to link some members of the Barbados Labour Party government with lack of transparency and accountability and with corrupt practices in public office.
The Prevention of Corruption Bill is however still to be debated in Parliament after three years of DLP governance. Serious doubt now exists as to whether integrity legislation will indeed be enacted by this particular Parliament, considering the utterances by some Government Members of Parliament since the general election as to their individual willingness to declare their assets.
The Bill in its present form establishes an eight member Prevention of Corruption Commission, to be chaired by a former judge or an attorney-at-law of at least 15 years standing appointed by the Governor General after consultation with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. This Commission would receive and keep all declarations and documents, make independent enquiries and carry out investigations into allegations of corruption, make any enquiries it deems necessary in order to verify the accuracy of any declaration or document before it and to investigate complaints of statutory non-compliance.
Every person in public life, including Members of Parliament, Judges, Magistrates, Board Members and Chief Executive Officers of Statutory Boards and of Government-controlled companies, Permanent Secretaries, Heads of Government departments and Trade Union Presidents and CEO’s would be mandated to file with the Commission a declaration setting out his assets, income and liabilities as well as those of his spouse and unmarried minor children within three months of each year end. Any gifts or series thereof exceeding $500.00 in value given to him by a person other than a relative or household member will have to be declared. Assets held by agents and in blind trusts will also be required to be declared by these officials. Additionally, Parliament ought to ensure that indirect financial contributions made to individual election candidates through foundations and other processes are covered within this provision.
The Commission would be empowered to conduct an enquiry into the acquisition of property by a public official or person connected thereto where it is suspected that such property was obtained by corrupt means.
A provision of great significance would compel all contesting Political Parties to file declarations stating the name and address of every financial contributor to them in respect of contributions made within 2 years prior to and 6 months after a general election.
Persons unlawfully offering public officials inducements or rewards for them to commit a dereliction of duty or to give assistance or use their influence in relation to contracts with a public body for the performance of work, provision of services and supply of goods as well as public officials so unlawfully accepting or soliciting the same in order to undertake their duty will all be guilty of offences under this legislation.
The law will also penalize private sector entities which unlawfully seek to obtain concessions, exemptions or licences in order to improperly gain an advantage in their commercial activities.
Provision is also made in the Bill as presently drafted for the seizure of property suspected of being derived from corrupt practices, for Court-ordered freezing of the property of persons convicted under the law and for the protection of whistle-blowing witnesses.
Public officials will be required to sign a code of conduct under this legislation which, if enacted, would replace the present outdated Prevention of Corruption Act passed in 1910.The new legislation would also ratify three international conventions to which Barbados is a signatory.
The general proposed penalty on conviction of offences under the Act is $500,000.00 or 5 years imprisonment or both.
We can only look forward with anticipation to the Parliamentary debate, if and when it finally takes place, on the merits of this Bill. It is generally believed that corrupt practices have added significantly to the cost of conducting business with the public sector and government in a substantial number of countries. Barbados needs to ensure that the legislative framework exists to eliminate as much as possible such a notion and to enhance transparency and accountability in our country’s political and administrative governance. We must still however, as a small developing state which must maximize all its possible human resources, be mindful of the need not to make the criteria so onerous that persons with worthy contributions to make to public life are deterred from so serving.