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HomeNewsLocal NewsThree Bills geared towards actualising “Good Governance Agenda” passed in National Assembly.

Three Bills geared towards actualising “Good Governance Agenda” passed in National Assembly.

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by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN) – After heated and lengthy debates on the Anti-Corruption Bill during the February 23 sitting of the National Assembly, three Bills aimed at mitigating corrupt practices on the government level and bolstering the transparency and accountability of public officials – the Good Governance Agenda – were passed.

The three Bills passed – the Anti-Corruption Bill, 2023; the Integrity in Public Life (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, 2023.

The Anti-Corruption Bill was the first bill debated and was highly contentious, with the debate going on for six hours.

The Bill defines and creates criminal offences of corrupt conduct and creates an Office of a Special Prosecutor that would receive complaints, investigate and prosecute acts of corrupt conduct of individuals in public life in St. Kitts and Nevis.

Premier of Nevie and parliamentary representative for Nevis nine, Hon. Mark Brantley said he wishes the government to be cognizant of the legislation being passed and how they affect the nation.

“We’re passing legislation are far-reaching implications, and I am sometimes concerned that we’re not quite paying attention to the implications because we’re concerned about the studies that are being done… I’m not saying these things to suggest that we ought not to have these ideals. I’m saying this to say that we must be careful that we don’t end up putting our country into paralysis… We have to be careful that we don’t over promise in terms of some of what we’re seeking to.”

Prime Minister, Hon. Dr Terrance Drew, in support of the Bill, reiterated that corruption is detrimental to human society’s growth, advancement and development.

“Corruption in any system is bad, Madam Speaker, and especially for those who are the victims of that corruption. I listened carefully, and I want to say that as we continue to grow, that not because it is that perfect means that we should not do it, and I will not be daunted any second not to attempt to do it. Because if not now, when; if not now, when? We [have] heard about the urgency of now since in the days of Martin Luther King and repeated again by Barrack Obama. The urgency of now, if not now, when? And that is why I think we need to step up to the plate in this moment and do it; although it will not be perfect, but it has to be done.”

The second Bill debated, the Integrity in Public Life (Amendment) Bill amended several sections of the Integrity in Public Life Act, Cap. 22.18, which outlined a code of conduct and declarations of interest for public officials; created offences of abuse of office, misconduct and neglect of duty and established the integrity commission. 

“The Integrity in Public Life Act now covers high-level officials only, and the reason for that is high-level officials have the greatest opportunity to be corrupt. They are the ultimate decision-makers. They are the ones that could potentially take bribes and act in corrupt ways. So then The Integrity Commission will be charged with looking at less than 200 declarations year by year, and being able to tell the people of this country that the people in the highest offices in the land are doing things the right way.” – mover of the Bills, Attorney-General Hon Garth Wilkin clarifying the changes to the Integrity in Public Life (Amendment) Bill, which covers high-level public officials and the Anti-Corruption Bill covering all public officials.

Political commentators have criticised the Integrity in Public Life Act as not being operationalised. The just-passed amendments are expected to give the Act the necessary powers to address the issues with high-level public officials given strict deadlines on filings, hard copy and electronic submissions, new definitions for child and spouse under the Act,  etc.

The deadlines for submissions were in the amendment to section five of the Act, which stipulates that: 

  • a person who was appointed a public official prior to the 1st day of January 2023 shall file an initial declaration on or before the 31st day of July 2023; 
  • a person who is appointed as a public official after the 31st day of January, in any year, shall file an initial declaration within 100 days of becoming a public official;
  • a public official shall, in each succeeding calendar year that he or she continues to be a public official, file further declarations on or before the 30th day of April. 

Parliamentary member for Constituency ten, Hon, Eric Evelyn, raised concerns about electronic filings, explicitly referencing the recent hacking of the Nevis Island Administration’s systems and the information held under ransom for millions of US dollars.

“I do not want us to venture down the avenue where we are exposing ourselves to when public officials file, that their information gets out there. We have been filing in Nevis for the past four years, and the Integrity Commission has been very strict in informing us that we should not file electronically; we should file by hand, which I personally prefer. When you venture down the avenue filing electronically, [and] that information is hacked, you don’t know who could get [their] hands on that information.”

The last of the three Bills, the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, 2023, amends several sections of the Freedom of Information Act, No. 6 of 2018, making clearer definitions of terms and language within the Act, which provides maximum disclosure of information in the public interest and guarantees the right of everyone to access information.

The three Bills, now passed and will be gazetted into law, are expected to work in tandem, holding public officials accountable.

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