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Attempts to amend law for repeat offenders

ST. JOHN’S — The Integrity Commission wants the Integrity in Public Life Act amended so that it has autonomy to take repeat offenders before the law courts for failing to declare their assets.

Secretary to the Commission, Roslyn Yearwood, explained that presently, depending on the category of delinquent public official, the body has to go through a “tedious” and “time-consuming” process of sending a report on the infractions to the House speaker, the senate president and various service commissions.

This entire process has to be completed within six months of the commission publishing the names of defaulting declarants in the Official Gazette.

“The thing is that after all this, if these people don’t feel like doing anything with regard to that, then it makes a mockery of the whole thing,” Yearwood said.

And if the commission has its way, legislative changes would also allow it to simply notify the relevant “people” what “transpired” rather than needing them to take “appropriate” action.

Under the Act, anyone in public life who has no reasonable cause for failing to declare assets is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 12 months.

Members of parliament and civil servants are among public officials who must declare their assets by March 31 each year. The legislation declares when filing should be done but does not address penalties for late submissions.

Yearwood said this is cause for concern, so the commission has recommended that “you can be charged for this” as an incentive to be timely with the information.

The secretary admitted that as the act is brought to life, “we are seeing things that can be amended”.

Meantime, the Integrity Commission has put paid to public perception that MPs are among the worst offenders.

According to her, their compliance rate is over 75 per cent. Public servants such as permanent secretaries as well as senior members of the Customs Division, Police Force and Immigration Department must also make their assets public each year.

Yearwood said they are the main culprits since many believe “once they have filed, they don’t have to do it again, as nothing has changed”.

She noted that while compliance has improved overall, she’s not “completely satisfied”. (Antigua Observer)

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