Thu | Jan 17, 2019

Plug corruption law loophole, says watchdog

Published:Friday | December 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Justice Paul Harrison - File

STUBBORN RESISTANCE on the part of some parliamentarians to declare the assets and liabilities of their spouses to the Integrity Commission have prompted the corruption watchdog to request an amendment in the current law to try and plug any loopholes in terms of inaccurate reporting.

Parliamentarians are required to make annual declarations to the Integrity Commission of their assets, income and liabilities, as well as that of their spouses and children.

In Section 38 (1) of the Integrity Act, the law states that a statutory declaration shall include particulars as are known to the declarant of the income, assets and liabilities of the spouse and children.

"We believe the words 'as are known' should be removed from the bill, obliging a declarant to state his spouses' assets and liabilities," chairman of the commission Justice Paul Harrison declared.

Refused to declare assets

He said some parliamentarians have refused to furnish their spouse's information claiming, "I do not know, and I am not aware".

Harrison said in a particular instance, a legislator told him that he did not "involve himself in his wife's affairs", a response the Integrity Commission chairman described as "evasive".

"The whole purpose of the declaration is to make sure that all the net worth, the assets of the declarant and the family is coming from legitimate means," Harrison stressed, while making a submission on Tuesday to a joint select committee examining the Integrity Commission Act of 2014.

The proposed law is intended to merge the Office of the Contractor General, the Integrity Commission and the Corruption Prevention Commission into a single agency with prosecutorial powers and other investigative functions to fight corruption.

Harrison explained that previously, the majority of parliamentarians complied in supplying the requisite information to the commission for their spouses, but it appears that having discovered that some did not supply the information, many have since ceased to declare.

The Integrity Commission chairman insisted that there should be a level rule for all parliamentarians, adding that at times the responses to reporting requirements "can be very creative".

MP might not know

Some committee members argued that a parliamentarian might not know all the assets and income of his/her spouse or the relationship might be estranged.

Committee member Arnaldo Brown questioned whether a lawmaker should be penalised for the unwillingness of his/her partner to supply information needed for declaration to the commission.

Committee chairman Senator Mark Golding pointed out that the safeguard provided in the bill was the term "as are known", but noted Harrison's discomfort with this provision, which seemingly creates an escape for those reluctant to report.

However, Opposition Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte contended that parliamentarians held critical positions in terms of decision-making for the country and, as such, the standard of accountability for this group should be very high.

She said there have been many allegations where a parliamentarian, "perhaps a minister, who has access to resources may choose to allocate resources along the line of a spouse or contracts or things like that, and they are enriched, and they in turn are able to enjoy a certain lifestyle".