On preventing corruption (ii)

In his recent address at a discussion hosted by the Integrity Group Barbados, former Attorney General and, more latterly, former Chief Justice of Barbados, Sir David Simmons, commented on the shortcomings of the current draft of the Barbados Prevention of Corruption Act that awaits proclamation only to enter into force. In our leader last week, we treated his strictures concerning the inadequacy of the provision made in the Act for the regulation of the blind trust instrument, a device used by those in public service who are subject to the conflict of interest provisions under the Act to separate the administration of their existing private assets from conflation with their public income.

The reaction to Sir David’s comments has been most intriguing. Populist partisan commentary has queried why did he not enact these suggested reforms during his period as Attorney General, a thesis that seems to hold that anti-corruption measures are somehow a partisan political activity, whereby a member of a party that failed to take any legislative initiatives in that direction while in office, is disqualified for all time from commenting on the inadequacies of legislation proposed by the other party, no matter how informed that view might be. We do not agree that such a thesis is in the best interest of good governance of the nation’s affairs.

A more learned comment on the matter came from Prime Minister, Mr. Freundel Stuart, himself a lawyer. Mr. Stuart reminded those in attendance at a mass meeting of the Democratic Labour Party Christ Church constituency groups last Sunday, that there is still on the statute books the Prevention of Corruption Act 1929. While Mr. Stuart is right in his statement, it bears reminder that the new Act in addition to proscribing corruption in public life is also intended to give effect to three international conventions to which Barbados is a state party. The already existing law would be inadequate to provide compliance with our contemporary international obligations in these regards. In any case, the 1929 legislation is destined to be repealed by the new Act according to section 70.

Moreover, the point needs to be made that the prevention of corruption in public life may be effected only if there is the enforcement of the provisions of the applicable law, whether this be of the ancient 1929 version with its abridged limitation period of a mere six months after discovery of an offence for the commencement of a prosecution or the modern version with its provisions for declaration of assets, the effective protection of the whistleblower and clearly far more dissuasive penalties such as the forfeiture of assets obtained through corrupt means.

Sir David also noted in his speech the deficiency of the modern Act as it relates to the weak investigative powers of the officers of the Prevention of Corruption Commission. Comparing the local provisions to that in the Turks & Caicos Islands, he marvelled at the absence of the power of arrest in these officers and the vulnerability of the Commission to an action for judicial review.

We do not believe that the prevention of corruption in public life ought to be a politically partisan matter. Unfortunately, this appears to be a reality in Barbados in most cases. We therefore urge the Integrity Barbados group to be unstinting in its efforts to have the new Act brought into force, taking due account of the suggestions made by Sir David, so that we will not rank high on the perception of corruption index only, but will be able to say truthfully to all the world, “We are a clean jurisdiction bereft of any corruption.”

Barbados Advocate

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