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HomeNewsCode of Conduct for ministers, MPs, senators to be legislated

Code of Conduct for ministers, MPs, senators to be legislated

Parliament Square in Downtown Nassau. FILE

For the first time, ministers, other parliamentarians and a host of public officers found in contravention of the Code of Conduct would face imprisonment and/or a fine if convicted.

The Integrity Commission Bill, 2017, which comprehensively details acts of corruption and would legislate a Code of Conduct, states that violators would be “liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $20,000 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year, or to both”.

Under the bill, any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that those bound to adhere to the Code of Conduct have contravened a provision, may report it to the commission.

But the commission can investigate without complaint if it is satisfied there are reasonable grounds.

The commission will have the power of subpoena.

As part of its investigation, the commission may hold formal inquiries.

Failure to attend an inquiry, upon request, without “reasonable cause” carries a penalty of up to a year imprisonment and/or a fine of $15,000.

Knowingly providing false or incomplete information at an inquiry will carry the same penalty.

An investigation in response to a complaint shall not commence after two years from the date in which a public officer, minister or parliamentarian ceases to be in public life, according to the bill.

The commission will determine whether the Code of Conduct was contravened and decide whether charges or other appropriate disciplinary action should follow.

The Code of Conduct provides guidance on how ministers and parliamentarians, among others, should act and arrange their affairs in order to uphold acceptable ethical standards.

The bill would legislate existing standards of conduct for these officials.

As an example, as soon as a minister is appointed, he or she must resign from any other public office previously appointed.

Private work, whether remunerated or not, must be discontinued, and the prime minister should be immediately notified if a minister needs time to attend to transitional matters.
The only exception to the foregoing are personal or family holding companies that are not involved in any business or trade; and charitable, religious or non-profit organizations.

In each case, the prime minister should be advised, the code reads.

Those with direct contractual relationships with the government must terminate such relationships upon assuming office unless the nature of the relationship has been fully disclosed in accordance with the law.

While in office, ministers should take great care not to make investments which could result in a conflict of interest.

It would be a “flagrant breach” of the Code of Conduct to use insider information, directly or indirectly, to make speculative investments or to obtain some advantage for himself, a family member or associate in advance of an imminent change in government policy or revenue matters.

Ministers must not recommend their former firms or businesses to anyone seeking the government’s favor or continued favor.

Furthermore, ministers in the House of Assembly must keep separate their roles as ministers and their role as a parliamentarian.

Ministers should also not accept gifts that might be perceived to create an obligation to the donor.

According to the code, parliamentarians shall ensure their use of public resources is always in support of their duties in the House of Assembly or Senate, and should not confer any undue personal or financial benefit for themselves or anyone else.

Additionally, parliamentarians must not intervene in issues affecting a public officer’s career such as recruitment, promotion, reward, discipline and dismissal.

The Code of Conduct has more than 100 provisions, applicable to special advisers and their relationships with the government and media; workings of boards and public sector resources; and travel by ministers, their spouses and special advisers.

Whistleblower protection

Included in the bill, is whistleblower protection for public officials who come forward to complain and provide evidence to the commission.

The bill defines protected disclosures.

These include information that a criminal offense has been, is being or is likely to be committed; that a person has failed or is likely to fail a legal obligation; that a miscarriage of justice has occurred or is likely to occur; that the health and safety of an individual has been or is likely to be endangered or that the environment has been or is likely to be damaged.

A disclosure will not be protected if the public official has committed an offense by making the disclosure or discloses privileged material or information disclosed to him or her in the course of obtaining legal advice.

The bill states that whistleblower protection applies immaterial of whether the matter disclosed occurred or would occur in The Bahamas, or elsewhere, and the law applying to the matter disclosed is that of The Bahamas or of any other country or territory.

“A public official may make a disclosure to the Commission if the person reasonably believes that the information disclosed, and any allegation contained in it, are substantially true,” the bills reads.

The Integrity Commission Bill, 2017 explicitly defines corruption from unexplained wealth of public servants and accepting gifts over a certain value to the acquisition of property by unlawful means.

These acts would be criminal offenses under the proposed law and carry a penalty of imprisonment of six months to three years, as well as a fine.

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