by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The drafts of the Integrity In Public Life (Amendment) Bill and Anti-Corruption Bill have been posted to the Government information service’s website for the perusal of the General Public.
The drafts have been circulated to Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society Organizations, including the St. Kitts Integrity Commission, St. Kitts & Nevis Bar Association, St.Kitts National Youth Parliament Association (SKNYPA), St. Kitts Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce, etc. for input on the Draft Bills.
The current administration campaigned heavily on anti-corruption and the need to ‘weed out’ corrupt practices in government; thus, the public discourse on the Anti-Corruption Bill, one of the three pillars to fight against corruption which, also includes the Integrity in Public Life Amendment and Freedom of Information Acts. These three pieces of legislation seek to combat corruption from the lowest to the highest levels of public office.
According to the Draft Anti-Corruption Bill, an Office of the Special Prosecutor will be established where a Special Prosecutor will be appointed by the Judicial Legal Services Commission (JLSC) operated by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC). Only the JLSC could terminate the Special Prosecutor.
The Office will be independent of the Government and subject to the authority of the Director of Public Prosecution.
The Act also speaks to the prohibition of corrupt conduct, a duty to report corrupt practices, protection of whistleblowers (anyone who informs on an individual or organisation engaged in an illicit activity), Investigation of breaches, etc. Special Offences for violation of this law would be created, including Abuse of Office, Fraud on the Government and Statutory Corporations, Selling or purchasing public office, Influencing or negotiating appointments or dealing in offices, etc.
“[If] anybody sees an incident of corruption, they can report it to the Special Prosecutor’s Office. [The] office is independent. It’s subject to the Constitutional powers of the Director of Public Prosecution, which has the overarching powers to deal with criminal matters, whether to start them or end them. And that person could then prosecute or recover monies that maybe have been siphoned off through corruption; that’s one thing that the Anti-corruption does. The second thing it does is create actual corruption criminal offences. Before, there were very limited corruption-style offences. The new Anti Corruption Act creates corruption style offences; bribery, receiving money so that somebody can get a job, receiving money from someone to give them a contract, those sorts of incidents of bribery that could happen anywhere in the civil service,” said Attorney General, Hon. Garth Wilkin on November 10 during an interview on WINN’s Island Tea with Azem Bailey.
Another legislation discussed by the Attorney General provides regulations that guide procurement for the government, the Procurement Act, a legislative framework for the government. It determines procedures, policies and regulations for sourcing goods, services or infrastructural projects, which starts with testing the market. Terms of reference go out, bids are placed, and a procurement board sits and decides which bids are most appealing.
While those processes exist, the Attorney General said the Procurement Act had been breached profusely.
“[The] Procurement Act has been breached left, right and centre. I’ve seen one contract for $874,000; no procurement. The contracts that I spoke about in my press release; no procurement. I know that the going rate for the services that we’re provided is around $2,000 a month; people were getting paid $27,000. People need to know these things because it’s their money. The Treasury is not my money; it’s not your money… everybody pays taxes, right? Everybody who license their vehicle, everybody who pays VAT in the supermarket when you buy cornflakes; it’s the people’s one [and] we are custodians of the people’s money, so we have to protect it.”
Wilkin also addressed comments he made earlier in September where upon learning of some “not very friendly” actions towards the Treasury that he was tempted to embarrass some people publicly. Wilkin admitted that his comments were regrettable.
“That name and shame thing came from me… it was twisted a little bit because it was taken out of context. When I was speaking at a SKNYPA event, I was speaking on integrity. In response to one of the questions, what are you all [going] to do? And I said, some of the things that I’ve been seeing since I took office on August 15… I’ve seen so much corruption, so much dishonest activity, that I just felt like naming people and embarrassing them. Let me explain why I said that; I regret saying that; I apologise for saying that. I said it from a position of frustration. I’m somebody that has come from the private sector. I come from a litigation background. So I’ve seen dishonest and bad conduct, but I never thought it would be at this level in government. In that presentation by SKNYPA was, I think, in September, so it was my early frustrations coming out.”
When raising the topic of the conduct of high-ranking public officials, the lack of an official code of ethical conduct for politicians was raised by Wilkin, where an ethical body could determine the legitimacy of individuals to be elected, appointed, participate in parliament or be a minister of government.
“The people need to know what the people [Administration] before did, so they can then determine whether they want these people to run their affairs and have control of their treasury again. So by telling the people and being open and transparent with them, by naming the people who have done bad, saying what bad they have done, you are really telling the people, “you need to determine if that kind of conduct is acceptable to you or not”. It may be conduct that does not arise to the level of a criminal offence. But it might be dishonest. It might not even be corruption. It might be just below; it might be just “wow, really?” So it’s not a matter of naming and shaming. It’s a matter of providing the public with the information so they then can determine if these people who did this action when they had the power should get power again because ultimately people decided that.”
The passing, amending and operationalisation of these Acts will create a general “Code of Conduct” by which people in the civil service and those holding decision-making positions in public office abide to stop instances of corrupt practices irrespective of changes in administration.