Commission: Despite promises, no update on anti-corruption law

At a January Public Accounts Committee hearing, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson and Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose both promised that reintroducing the long-dormant Standards in Public Life Law is a priority for government.

However, the chairman of the Commission for Standards in Public Life, Rosie Whittaker-Myles, said on Wednesday that she had not received any communications from government about the law, which is designed to prevent conflicts of interests within government.

The Standards in Public Life Law was passed in early 2014, and requires civil servants and board members to declare their business interests, property, family ties, and other information.

The law was never put into effect, however, 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.

In January 2018, the Commission for Standards in Public Life met with Premier Alden McLaughlin “to express the commission’s eagerness in securing a commencement date for the law”, and to move forward with the drafting of legal regulations that will govern the operation of that legislation, according to an audit report on the issue.

Whittaker-Myles also said on Wednesday that she had a meeting with the governor late last year about revisiting the law, and was told that her concerns would be conveyed to the premier.

After her meeting, an audit report was released in January, calling for government to enact the law.

“Until this law is in force, if conflicts of interest arise they might not be identified or dealt with appropriately, creating opportunities for corruption,” the report states, adding, “The fact that the law is not yet in force may also affect public trust and lead to lack of integrity, transparency, and accountability.”

In response to the audit report, Rose and Manderson said later in January that reintroducing the Standards in Public Life Law to the Legislative Assembly is a priority.

Rose said Premier 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 in January.

But none of this information has been conveyed to the Commission for Standards in Public Life, according to Whittaker-Myles, who said she has received all her updates on the status of the law from media reports.

“The commission is aware based on other persons who appeared before this committee … that there may well be some further amendments [to the Standards in Public Life Law],” she said. “But this is just based on what we read in the newspaper.”

Public Accounts Committee Chairman Ezzard Miller remarked that the Standards in Public Life Law is not on the agenda for the next Legislative Assembly sitting in April.

Based on statements made in the Public Accounts Committee, the amendments made to the Standards in Public Life Law may lessen the reporting requirements for board members.

Manderson said in January that 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,” Manderson said. “We’re still working to have this addressed.”

Whittaker-Myles said she has heard about similar concerns being expressed to members of her commission.

The chairman also mentioned on Wednesday another amendment she would like to see to the law, which would impose more stringent reporting requirements on public officials. She said an amendment should be considered to require public officials to continue making declarations for two to five years after they retire from office.

This would help make sure that the officials are not being unjustly enriched after they leave office, she said.