EDITORIAL: A legislative fail

We understand that according to the traditions of the Westminster system of governance, the failure to pass a money Bill leads ineluctably to the resignation of a governing administration.Well, the Integrity in Public Life Bill 2020 that failed parliamentary passage in the Senate last week is not a money Bill by any description, and the failure of the current administration to secure its enactment before the scheduled prorogation of Parliament cannot thereby cause its resignation, although acute embarrassment is a more likely consequence.

That today there is no Integrity in Public Life Act 2020 is partly owed, we believe, to an admixture of backfired stratagem, a woeful misunderstanding of the provisions of the Bill by some Senators, and plain obstinacy on the part of others.

It was the backfired stratagem that indirectly caused the walkout by the four Senators as reported, although the effect of this on the final vote remains unclear. We do not doubt that the presence of Minister of Tourism, Ms Lisa Cummins, was in an effort to secure the numbers for the passage of the Bill. It was thwarted, however, by at least two events. First, the televised Zoom appearance at a live press conference earlier that day of fellow Minister, Mr Jeffrey Bostic, obviously under isolation, made Cummins’ presence even more alarming, since she was identically compromised as he was by fleeting contact with the group of Ghanaian nurses.

Second, given that it was always generally understood that the minimum period of quarantine was seven days, even a letter from a doctor expressing satisfaction with a shorter period could scarcely placate concerns, not when it had also been claimed that one visitor had tested positive for the virus eleven days after two prior negative tests.

That some Senators appear unaware of the true import of the Bill is clear if we are to judge from their reported comments. It had been widely published that the individual declarations will be kept confidential by the Commission to whom they are made. Yet, one Senator is reported in another section of the press as asserting, “…some of the terms of the Bill would require us to liberally expose our families including our spouses and our children”. We also get the impression from reading the comments of another that she is of the misguided view that “in the public interest” connotes any matter in which the public would be interested, such as the financial status of listed public officers.

Some senators were also unwilling to support the passage of the Bill either because of what it does not include – the judiciary and whistleblower protection; or whom it includes – public officers. So far as the first is concerned, we have already noted here that the inclusion of the judiciary in

such legislation implicates its constitutional independence as has been determined in litigation elsewhere.

In any event, the Prime Minister has hinted at similar legislation to cover the judiciary. Finally, the clamour for their inclusion might speak to a level of mistrust, but if the judiciary is not to be trusted, then all civic protection against state excess may as well be non-existent.

The same holds true for the absence of whistleblower protection. This is not pertinent to public corruption only and, as was the case with discrimination in employment, it could form the subject matter of its own discrete Act applicable to all relevant situations.

We, too, regret the failure to effect passage of this Bill before prorogation. This development entails that it will have to be re-introduced since, according to the learning, the effect of prorogation is to bring an end to a parliamentary session and to all public Bills under discussion such as the current one.

Barbados Advocate

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