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Name & shame

No financial disclosures made public under PLP govt Latest public info up to 2008
  • Dr. Hubert Minnis.

  • Perry Christie.

  • Myles Laroda.

CANDIA DAMES
Managing Editor
candia@nasguard.com

Published: Jun 14, 2017

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Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has sent a message that he is serious about exposing those parliamentarians — former and current — who failed to file their financial disclosures during the last term, as required by law.

Minnis has given them three weeks in which to file, “or he is going to turn that file with their names over to the attorney general and instruct him to do what the law prescribes”.

The Public Disclosure Act empowers both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition to “authorize the furnishing of any information furnished to him by the [Public Disclosure] Commission to the attorney general or the commissioner of police”.

That information includes the commission’s report on the MPs and other public officials who have failed to file their disclosures.

Minnis also had the legal authority as opposition leader to turn over names to the attorney general.

As opposition leader, Minnis said MPs who failed to comply with the law and make their financial disclosures should be locked up.

“I can tell you that I have disclosed,” he said in June 2014.

“You (the media) would do me a great favor, you and the Bahamian public — set an example, march and force them to disclose. And the police should lock them up. That’s the job of the police. They must disclose.”

Minnis’ press secretary, Anthony Newbold, told the media last week that “more than 20 members of Parliament, former and present, have three weeks in which to file”.

“Some of them who were sitting from 2012, I’d say about six of them, they didn’t file at all over the five-year period.

“And so, it is going to be interesting over three weeks to see what happens.”

Newbold could not say why Minnis did not forward names to the then attorney general when he was opposition leader.

The Public Disclosure Act of 1976 provides for a $10,000 fine or imprisonment of a term not exceeding two years, or both, for anyone who violates it.

In the case where the offense involves the deliberate non-disclosure of property, in addition to a fine or term of imprisonment or both, the property located inside The Bahamas will be forfeited to the government, or the value of the property, if situated outside The Bahamas, would be paid by the offender.

The law was created specifically in an effort to ensure that elected and publicly appointed officials do not enrich themselves off of the public purse.

While there is a Public Disclosure Commission, the 1976 legislation is outdated.

It is the Cabinet that decides on gazetting the information.

Due to the lack of political will, there has been no urgency in recent years to make the disclosures public or take any action against any official who violates the law.

Unless someone were to leak us the information, there is no other way for us to access it.

During the recent Christie administration, the report was not gazetted — not once.

The most recent gazetted report is from December 2011, and it contains information on disclosures only up to 2008.

That means that in nearly 10 years, the public has not had access to published information on whether parliamentarians were obeying the law in relation to public disclosures.

This is absolutely incredible.

Commission Chairman Myles Laroda admitted to National Review this is “very concerning”.

“You’re talking about leaders of the country, elected and appointed, who have got a responsibility legally to declare and yet they haven’t,” Laroda said.

“I think it’s equally interesting that it hasn’t been done now in seven years. Yes. It is concerning.”

Laroda acknowledged that the public has every right “to know the assets of the politicians”.

“Those people who are anxious, they have every right to be so,” he said.

Given that Laroda has only been chairman for two years, the commission’s work under his leadership has not yet been gazetted.

The recent information it forwarded to Minnis and Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis is information up to 2015.

“I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time, but I would like to know that the work that we have done is gazetted in a more expeditious manner,” Laroda told us.

The commission lacks technological tools to carry out its work, an Organization of American States (OAS) report noted in 2015.

At that time, the commission was using the following machines in the execution of its functions: One adding machine, two word processors and a fax machine.

The commission does not have an electronic system for receiving declarations and accordingly, there is no electronic database in use. Data is stored in the filing system, that report noted.

 

Recommendations

When he spoke at an anti-corruption conference in the Cayman Islands in March 2014, then Prime Minister Perry Christie acknowledged a flagrant disregard by officials for this law.

Outlining anti-corruption legislation in The Bahamas, Christie pointed to “legislation providing for the disclosure of the financial affairs of members of Parliament and senior public officials (which admittedly, however, has not proven to be a model of scrupulous observance)”.

Nevertheless, he said, the Public Disclosure Act is a part of a package of legislative provisions and mechanisms “used and pressed into service in some way or another as part of the national fight against corruption in The Bahamas”.

Some former MPs have admitted in the media that they have violated the law by failing to disclose.

In February 2011, Hubert Ingraham, at the time prime minister, said, “The last one I did was the day before the election in 2007”.

That means that he had not disclosed up to that point in four years.

Ingraham acknowledged at the time, “the Public Disclosures Act is not being adhered to by members of Parliament”.

At that time, the last disclosures published were done on November 3, 2004 and had information up to 2000.

Ingraham said he was in no position to tell other public officials to disclose their financial information in light of his own violation.

The act provides for the Public Disclosure Commission to examine every declaration furnished to it by MPs, senators and senior public officials and public appointees.

But the Public Disclosure Commission is a toothless tiger.

In its 2013 report, the Constitutional Commission noted, “There can be no denying that there is a need for a body which would have the ability to ensure that ministers, parliamentarians and other senior officials are accountable and exercise probity in their affairs.

“In recent times, however, under successive governments, the Public Disclosure Commission has become essentially dead letter.”

The 1976 act has not been amended or updated since being enacted.

The Public Disclosure Commission is a unit of the Cabinet Office and not an independent agency.

The OAS’ MESICIC (The Mechanism for Follow-up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption) report, dated March 20, 2015, said, “Given that the commission does the important work of receiving and reviewing declarations of parliamentarians, including that of the prime minister, it is essential that it has independence to carry out its functions in reviewing the declarations submitted by members of the Cabinet and the prime minister”.

The report observed the relatively low level of compliance by those subject to the act to file their declarations on or before the legislatively mandated timeframe.

In this respect, the committee conducting the review noted that one of the difficulties mentioned during its onsite visit was the delay in obtaining declarations from members of Parliament, senators, senior public officers and public appointees.

The report recommended that The Bahamas consider publicizing the names of the officials who have not submitted their declarations as required under the Public Disclosure Act, in addition to the report sent to the prime minister and leader of the opposition.

“As there is a difficulty in obtaining these declarations, publicizing names may prove useful in

encouraging compliance of those that are in default,” the report said.

It recommended empowering the commission to report directly to the attorney general or the police when it comes across alleged acts of corruption committed by those subject to the act.

The report made a long list of recommendations, including making the commission independent.

It also recommended publicizing the summarized declarations online so as to assure greater access to them by the public.

Again, the former administration left office without giving this matter any priority.

In the recent Speech from the Throne, the Minnis administration pledges to amend the Public Disclosure Act “to broaden the scope of application to include campaign finance reform and to make provisions for direct referral to an independent prosecutor”.

That is a start, but the legislation needs significant overhaul.

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