Government: Long-dormant anti-corruption law a ‘priority’

Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose says an announcement on the Standards in Public Life legislation will be made in the 'not too distant future.'

Government officials promised Wednesday in a Public Accounts Committee hearing that government will soon reintroduce the long-dormant Standards of Public Life Law, a piece of legislation designed to prevent conflicts of interests in government.

The original Standards in Public Life Law was passed in early 2014, but the legislation was never put into effect, largely because of complaints from appointed members of boards and commissions serving at the request of politicians. The disclosures mandated by the initial law, board members argued, were far too broad – extending in some cases to distant relations and employees of the board members.

Under the 2016 amended legislation, board members do not have to declare memberships in any professional group, charity or special interest organization. Interest disclosure requirements for appointed board members extend only to their immediate family – spouses and dependents – and are to be declared only when the board member holds property or manages anything on behalf of that person or if that person manages something for the board member.

PAC Chairman Ezzard Miller commented on Wednesday that the amended version of the legislation is “watered down.”

But those rules have not been enacted, either.

Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said Wednesday that concerns persist about the 2016 amended legislation. He said board members are primarily concerned about disclosing their financial interests to the public.

“They’re not concerned that they have to report a conflict; they’re concerned that they have to make their entire holdings public,” Mr. Manderson said. “We’re still working to have this addressed.”

Mr. Manderson said he does not have a timeline for when a new Standards of Public Life Law will be presented in the Legislative Assembly, but that doing so is a priority for government.

Cabinet Secretary Sam Rose made similar statements, saying Premier Alden McLaughlin has plans to review the law and is discussing this with the attorney general. The public can expect an announcement on this in the “not too distant future,” he said.

Mr. Rose also disputed statements on a recently released audit report on public corruption that there is a perception that some activities, such as appointment of public officials, are open to corruption due to lack of transparency.

“I believe this phraseology is very unfortunate,” said the cabinet secretary, saying that government has a strong anti-corruption framework and is very transparent about how it appoints members to the boards of public entities.

Auditor General Sue Winspear rebutted Mr. Rose, however, saying that the perception about the appointment of public officials is nevertheless present in the public. She said she is basing this assertion on the interviews her office conducted for the report.