Former Premier proposes legislation to combat corruption in public life

  • <B>Former Premier Alex Scott</B> has proposed legislation to combat corruption in public life.

    Former Premier Alex Scott has proposed legislation to combat corruption in public life.
    ((Photo by Akil Simmons))

  • <B>Former Premier Alex Scott</B> has proposed legislation to combat corruption in public life.<B><I></B></I>

    Former Premier Alex Scott has proposed legislation to combat corruption in public life.
    ((Photo by Akil Simmons))

  • <B>Former Premier Alex Scott</B> has proposed legislation to combat corruption in public life.

    Former Premier Alex Scott has proposed legislation to combat corruption in public life.
    ((Photo by Akil Simmons))

  • <B>Former Premier Alex Scott</B> has proposed legislation to combat corruption in public life.

    Former Premier Alex Scott has proposed legislation to combat corruption in public life.
    ((Photo by Akil Simmons))

Highlights of draft Act

Some highlights of the draft Public Integrity Act:
Establishes the Anti-Corruption Commission, a self regulating, independent body, which would investigate allegations of public office corruption and refer cases for prosecution by the Department of Public Prosecutions.
Commission will have the power to freeze property suspected of being the proceeds of a corrupt act, authorise persons to arrest suspects without warrant and conduct searches if a court order is obtained.
Bribery, Abuse of Office, aggravated fraud, aggravated breach of trust, sale of office and false accounting among a series of offences to be created, punishable by 14 years in prison.
Would create an offence if an election donation is made with the purpose of influencing a commercial transaction.
Would require people who suspect corrupt activities among public officials to notify the Commission or face 14 years in prison.
Provides for the protection of whistle-blowers.

An independent Anti-Corruption Commission with investigatory powers, strong penalties for corrupt behaviour among public officials and whistle-blower protection are among a raft of measures being proposed by former Premier Alex Scott.

Mr Scott has taken the unprecedented step of having the legislative proposals drafted for the consideration of Bermuda’s new parliament.

The proposed “Public Integrity Act” can be read in full in today’s Royal Gazette starting on page five. It would give effect to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the world’s first global anti-corruption treaty which was adopted in 2003 and has been signed by 165 countries and regional groupings including the European Union.

Government did not respond by press time last night when asked if the UNCAC has been extended to Bermuda.

Mr Scott stressed that he had “absolutely no knowledge” of corrupt behaviour among public or elected officials who had not appeared before the courts.

“Remember: I retired. I didn’t die,” said Mr Scott when asked why he, as a private citizen, had taken it upon himself to propose a bill for the attention of Bermuda’s new political leaders.

He said that he had intended to introduce similar measures when he became Premier in 2003, but was not in office long enough to see it through. More recently, he noted, residents have been expressing concern throughout the Island about corruption in public life.

Mr Scott said that, while canvassing with his son and political successor Lawrence during the general election campaign, he had met many who shared the perception that there was corruption in Government.

“They have the perception of there existing some form of malfeasance, some form of corruption in Government,” Mr Scott said.

“While they were only perceptions, their perception was their reality. They never provided evidence, they never named names.”

He said: “Based on the perception in the community, I thought it was timely.” Governor George Fergusson, Premier Craig Cannonier and the Opposition Leader Marc Bean have all been provided a copy in advance of the proposals being printed in today’s newspaper.

Their reaction left him “extremely encouraged,” Mr Scott said adding that he is keen to see the feedback from the public.

“If they support it would show that they are serious about what they were saying on the doorstep.”

The ACC, a proposed seven member commission, would be structured along the same lines as the Ombudsman’s Office in that it would report to the Governor and directly to parliament, and independently investigate allegations of corruption.

“Another factor is that that Commission would do so in private.

“So anyone who has an allegation against Alex Scott, Alex Scott’s name would not in the first instance be found on the front pages in all the news media and part of conversation in the barber store and the like,” the former Premier said.

Forms of corruption defined by Mr Scott’s proposal include bribery, abuse of office, aggravated fraud, aggravated breach of trust, false accounting. Public officials and lawmakers who commit the offences could end up in prison for up to 14 years.

Campaign finance is also targeted with a special provision which makes it an offence, punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment, to make election donations to MPs or prospective MPs in order to influence a commercial transaction.

The measures would even make it an offence if reasonable suspicions of corrupt behaviour are not reported to the ACC.

Asked how urgent it is to have such anti corruption legislation, Mr Scott said: “How urgent is it for someone who purchases a new car to have insurance?

“I think it certainly upfront provides protection to the reputation of a third of the parliament who are going in clean — no allegations against them, no track record that folks can point their finger at and raise questions.”

He noted that the new parliament had committed to bipartisanship and ushered in a “new day” with “changed methodologies — all in the interest of serving Bermuda.

“And this is different. I don’t know that anyone else has put before parliament a complete draft of an Act. I do so acknowledging assistance from others who are like minded. I do so with the knowledge of how parliament operates and the benefit that they could get from having this document ‘in their pockets’ so that the Premier and the Opposition Leader and Government could go about real business without someone pointing their finger and there was limited recourse from parliament as to what it could do with such an allegation.

“It’s an idea whose time, I thought, was appropriate in 2003. Now, it’s an idea whose time has come. Certainly, for our reputation. We refer to all in parliament as Honourable men and ladies and this certainly will go a great distance to confirming that definition.”

He noted that parliament is supreme and it was up to the lawmakers to accept, amend or reject the proposals.

But he said the prospect of gaming being introduced to Bermuda — and the millions of dollars which could flow into the Island as a result — is another good reason why the country should seriously consider his proposal.

“If gaming is to come to Bermuda, we’re going to find a lot of money looking for a home,” he said.

“There will be construction contracts, there will be services sought by the directors of the gaming activity and this will make sure that our parliamentarians, our public servants are above reproach because if they were not there would exist a matter that would be referred to the Anti Corruption Commission.”

Mr Scott began his political career as a Senator in 1985 and entered parliament in 1993 as the representative for Warwick East. He was the Progressive Labour Party’s first Minister of Works & Engineering following the PLP’s historic victory in 1998, a posting which saw him oversee the building of the new Berkeley Institute — a project marred by cost overruns and allegations of mismanagement.

In July 2003 he was catapulted to the Premiership when a group of rebel MPs withheld their support for the then leader Jennifer Smith following the PLP’s second victory at the polls .

Mr Scott’s signature policies as Premier were a “Social Agenda”, Sustainable Development and an Island-wide conversation about Independence.

His leadership of the party, and the country, ended in October 2006 when he lost a scheduled leadership contest to his Deputy Ewart Brown.

The One Bermuda Alliance has also been concerned about corruption in Government. It promised during the election campaign that it would introduce Integrity in Public Office legislation, set minimum disclosure standards for MPs financial dealings with Government and adopt zero tolerance for unethical behaviour.

The OBA also promised that it would establish guidelines defining corruption, implement Freedom of Information and whistle blower legislation and create an independent Office of the Contractor General to oversee Government construction projects.

Former Premier Paula Cox was also concerned about standards of behaviour for civil servants and elected officials.

Good Governance legislation brought in under her tenure included giving the Director of Internal Audit extra powers to seize documents and protecting whistle-blowers. Ms Cox also set up a procurement office to ensure contracts are handed out fairly. Mr Scott recognised Ms Cox’s efforts when we interviewed him yesterday afternoon, saying that parliament may want to consider merging the good governance legislation with his proposed Public Integrity Act.

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Published Jan 11, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 10, 2013 at 10:53 pm)

Former Premier proposes legislation to combat corruption in public life

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