Editorial: On preventing corruption

If the currently governing, or indeed any future administration is serious about reducing the likelihood of or punishing the incidence of corruption in public life, it would do well to pay heed to the recent strictures leveled by former Chief Justice Sir David Simmons, at the yet to be proclaimed Prevention of Corruption Bill passed by both Houses of Parliament sometime ago.

In his comments at a recent public panel discussion, widely reported in last Friday’s issue of the Barbados Advocate, Sir David, who now serves as Chairman of the Turks & Caicos Integrity Commission, described the legislation as “too loose”, an analysis that connotes the easy avoidance of the requirements of the legislation by precisely those whose misconduct it should seek to impugn.

And hic critique should not at all be interpreted in a partisan political light as an attack on the currently governing Democratic Labour Party [DLP] administration. For one, Sir David is by now far removed from the realm of partisan politics, having been insulated in our view, by a period of service as Chief Justice and now lending his considerable legal acumen to another regional jurisdiction far removed from our shores.

Some may recall that the Bill is an attempt to implement the provisions of no fewer than three international treaties that the executive had ratified, the Inter American Convention Against Corruption adopted in March 1996, Articles 8 and 9 of the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (September 2003) and the UN Convention Against Corruption (October 2003).

Apart from the legalistic criticisms of the Bill, Sir David is also reported as making the telling point that the stamping out of corruption requires a culture shift, a near insuperable undertaking in a relatively mature polity. We have heard the observation that the disclosure of personal and family assets is to be treated as an unwarranted invasion of privacy in a jurisdiction where people are wont to use such sensitive personal information as a basis for all sorts of evil ends, a price that some are unwilling to pay for a stint in public service. Sir David recognized this: “It is going to be necessary to try to change the culture. People are going to rebel when they are told that they have to fill out these forms…and file them every two years…”

Sir David argues that a sensitization campaign will eventually cause acceptance of the new reporting regime, an assertion that we have no reason to doubt although we are mindful that the experience od one society, Turks & Caicos Islands, are not necessarily and immediately transferable to another, Barbados.

So far as the provisions of the Bill are concerned, Sir David honed in on the Clause 18 concept of the blind trust, a financial arrangement in which a person in public office gives over the administration of his or her private business interests to an independent trust in order to prevent conflict of interest. Under the trust, the owner does not know how the assets are managed.

In this context, Sir David bemoans the absence of any requirement for the trust deed to be filed with the Integrity (sc. Prevention of Corruption) Commission and for the trustee to give information to the Commission. We suppose that the requirement in section 18 for the person in public life to declare the amount and description of assets in the trust and the date of its creation to the Commission may render him or her subject to criminal liability for any failure to disclose in those regards, but a provision such as that suggested by Sir David would certainly tighten the reach of the statute.

We consider this discourse sufficiently important to the good governance of the state to merit further commentary in future. We intend to do so, God willing.

Barbados Advocate

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