Where our system falls short
The issue of financial disclosure for parliamentarians has concerned me for years, Mr Acting Editor. There has always been this nagging feeling that the requirement for disclosure has been honoured more in the breach than in the application. The reason? It is simply not policed like it should be.
The general principle that there ought to be disclosure was established clearly in the Bermuda Constitution Order 1968. Candidates for either House, upper and lower, are required to disclose any interest in they have in a Government contract by way of a notice in the Official Gazette, published seven days before nomination for a wannabe MP or seven days before appointment for a could-be Senator.
There is also a continuing, further requirement for disclosure where an interest in a Government contract is acquired after election or appointment.
But that’s just the starting point.
As the Constitution Order also provides, the nature of those interests which must be disclosed are further refined by legislation: the Legislature (Qualification and Disqualification) Act 1968.
In a nutshell, disclosure is only required if the politician (a) is an officer and holder of a minimum ten percent of shares in the company; or (b) is beneficial owner of at least 50 percent of the shares. Incidentally, the Act also allows for exemptions from disclosure — and there are a number; one, for example, where the politician is the partner, agent or employee of the person who does have a qualifying interest.
There is a penalty for failing to comply. Election/selection can be challenged in the Supreme Court and challenge can be made an aggrieved voter or a defeated candidate or the Attorney General.
But going to court is a big jump, and an expensive one, to have to take. You might reasonably think that there ought to be someone responsible for ensuring compliance in the first place and investigating where it is suspected that there isn’t.
This is where the system falls down, in my view.
The Attorney General cannot be expected to take this on — particularly now that the appointment is political and the holder is principal legal adviser to the governing party.
The DPP? Not likely. His office focuses on prosecutions.
The Parliamentary Registrar? Not without change to the Election Act and to his investigative powers. The Speaker? I’m not so sure. He seems to have his hands full just making sure that members comply with the Register of Interests which, incidentally, remains voluntary and without any strong sanction — reasons for change here too.
The Auditor General? I hate to add to her office’s workload but this may be the most suitable arm to investigate and ensure compliance given its powers to review Government finances and contracts. Whichever: what is clear there needs to be an overhaul to assure there is compliance, that it is done and that it is seen to be done.
A 100-day assessment of a Government which has a five-year term has always seemed kind of silly to me, Mr Acting Editor, most especially this time around given the state of the economy and the state of the Government finances, both of which were inherited.
Fact is the new OBA Government may need the entire term to turn things around — if they’re lucky. On the other hand, we should expect the Opposition to challenge decisions made (or not) along the way and to point out broken promises.
That’s their job. But the extravagance of some of the political palaver the parties use seems so, well, over the top. Schoolyard politics, maybe; although to me those recent exchanges had all the panache of missives from Pyongyang.
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