Editorials

Fostering good governance

In its pre-election document, “Our Blueprint for Change”, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) pledged to pass anti-corruption legislation “within our first 100 days in office”.

This did not happen.

However, Minister of State for Legal Affairs Jomo Campbell said in the House of Assembly on Tuesday the government will bring to Parliament its anti-corruption legislation in the coming fiscal year.

The legislation will, among other things, provide regulations for whistleblower protection, said Campbell, adding that the government will introduce an updated version of the Ombudsman Bill “that has laid dormant in the House of Assembly since 2017”.

The minister declared that the Davis administration is serious about anti-corruption and will, therefore, seek to repeal and amend existing outdated legislation as needed.

In its blueprint document, the PLP made a number of key commitments to foster good governance.

It stated: “We commit to fully implementing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), an Integrity Commission Act, Ombudsman Bill, new Public Disclosure Act, Anti-Corruption Act, campaign finance reform, code of conduct, Whistleblower Act, Electoral Reform Act and Procurement Act.”

These were commitments also made by the Free National Movement (FNM), but many of the pledges went unfulfilled.

The Minnis administration did bring the FOIA into force, saying over a year ago it would take months for its infrastructure to be fully set up. That infrastructure is still far from ready and members of the public are thus unable to make any requests for public information under the act, which was passed under the Christie administration.

The whistleblower provision of the act was brought into force in 2018.

The Public Procurement Bill was passed last year and came into force in September, two weeks before the FNM was voted out.

Though the PLP in Parliament voted in favor of that bill, in government, it is failing to abide by the law.

In his budget communication on May 25, Prime Minister Philip Davis said that during the first half of the new fiscal year, legislation will be brought to the House to amend and improve that act, as well as the Fiscal Responsibility Act and the Public Financial Management Act.

“In previous communications, I have reported to the House on the many deficiencies contained in these hastily enacted pieces of legislation,” Davis said.

Notwithstanding its concerns relating to the legislation, it is simply unacceptable that the current administration continues to show disregard for the Public Procurement Act. The law is the law as it currently exists.

Likewise, there appears to be a general disregard by public officials who are required to make financial disclosures under the Public Disclosure Act. When we checked with the Office of the Prime Minister on May 16, the Public Disclosure Commission still had not been fully constituted, though a chairman has been appointed.

Incredibly, the most recently gazetted report from the commission is from December 2011, and it contained information on disclosures only up to 2008.

In the last term, the Minnis administration had claimed to be serious about pushing an anti-corruption agenda.

In October 2017, the Integrity Commission Bill, which would have repealed the 45-year-old Disclosure Act, and the Ombudsman Bill, were tabled in the House of Assembly. They were never debated.

The Minnis administration had also repeatedly claimed a Campaign Finance Bill would be presented but, that, too, never happened.

Given the powerful role money plays in politics, and given the way politicians benefit from secrecy, it would surprise us if the Davis administration ever introduces such a bill.

Together, these pieces of legislation are intended to serve as tools to foster good governance and fight corruption. They would provide for transparency and accountability.

But as with any legislation, enforcement is what truly matters.

Our political leaders’ failure to adhere to the provisions of the Public Procurement Act and, in many cases over the years, their failure to adhere to the Public Disclosure Act, are prime examples of laws being on the books but of no real effect.

Important players in any anti-corruption regime are also enlightened and empowered members of the public.

If they do not demand good governance by pushing for these important laws to be passed, enacted and obeyed by public officials, then the field would remain ripe for corruption.

Instead of just changing administrations every five years, more Bahamians need to become better engaged participants in our democracy, so the true changes we seek could be delivered in meaningful and effective ways.

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