Public standards law to be resurrected

Significant legislation governing the disclosures of senior public servants’ personal interests will be brought back to the Legislative Assembly in early 2015 for amending, Premier Alden McLaughlin confirmed Wednesday.

Precisely what the amended Standards in Public Life Law will look like at that point is unknown. The law was approved in January but shelved in June amid a number of concerns over the reporting requirements – particularly for appointed members of public sector agency boards.

Mr. McLaughlin said his administration intended to bring the legislation back to the House “early in the new year.”

The current Register of Interests Law, which will be replaced whenever the Standards in Public Life Bill takes effect, requires disclosures of any pecuniary interest or material benefit that might 
“reasonably be thought by others to influence [a person’s] actions …” and requires the following people to register: elected members of the Legislative Assembly, the Speaker of the House, the chief secretary [a position that no longer exists], the attorney general, the financial secretary, the registrar of interests [in this case the Legislative Assembly clerk], nominated political candidates and “any person having received permission to attend a meeting of the Legislative Assembly, or a meeting of any of its committees, for the purpose of reporting in any newspaper of periodical, or in any radio or television broadcast, the meeting or any matter related to the meeting.”

The new Standards in Public Life Law will set a notably different standard for disclosure requirements and, though it leaves journalists off the list, adds a significant number of public sector employees or board members who must file disclosures.

There has been some confusion among government employees about who should report under the new law. Commissions Secretariat manager Deborah Bodden has said her office is compiling a list of civil service positions that must file disclosure forms, but that task was also put on hold while the new bill was being drafted.

Mr. McLaughlin explained the dilemma with the Standards in Public Life Law to the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee in June.

“We have had significant push-back from many people who are serving on commissions or boards,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said. “There is the threat, quite frankly, of mass resignations [on the government boards] if the law comes into force in its present form.”

The Standards in Public Life Law requires any “person in public life,” within 90 days of assuming the functions of his or her office, to make a declaration to the Commission for Standards in Public Life of their income, assets and liabilities acquired during the previous year.

The legislation defines a connected person as anyone who “acts on behalf of, or for the benefit of” the person making the required financial declaration. This can include an employee, a co-worker, a company, a trust or a family member.

For example, according to section 12 of the current law: “In making a declaration required [under the law], a person in public life shall include, in relation to himself and any connected person, details relating to – [subsection 1e] any land, whether beneficial or otherwise.”

Mr. McLaughlin said many of the issues raised were “specifically with respect to concerns around connected persons.”

“The way it’s defined is so broad and far-reaching that it’s almost endless in its implications,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “We don’t want people leaving [government boards] en masse. I don’t know who will run all of these things if we wind up scaring everybody away.

“It is one thing for elected members, who put ourselves on the line, to be required to disclose everything … and for senior public servants. It’s quite another thing to ask volunteers … to be held to the same standard with respect to disclosures.”

Another potential change will be the extent to which appointed board members would have to publicly disclose their personal assets.

The premier said it had been suggested that board members could register their assets where it would be accessible to those “who need to investigate these things,” but where members of the general public would not be able to obtain such information.

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