19 February, 2008

Members' Interests

Registration of Interests. Section 60A of the Constitution of Anguilla was not there originally. It was specially introduced into the 1982 Constitution by a constitutional amendment made in 1990. Somebody thought disclosure of economic interests by members of the House of Assembly was sufficiently important a matter to go about amending the Constitution to put it in. Like so many of Anguilla’s laws, it promptly went to sleep and has never been awakened. It has been a dead letter since the day it was written. What does the section say? It is not long. It reads:

Registration of interests

60A. (1) The Speaker shall maintain a Register of Interests in accordance with this section.

(2) It shall be the duty of each member of the Assembly to declare to the Speaker, for entry in the Register of Interests, such interests, assets, income and liabilities of that member or of any other person connected with him, as may be prescribed by law.

(3) A member of the Assembly shall make a declaration under subsection (2) of this section—

(a) upon becoming a member of the Assembly;

(b) at such intervals thereafter (being no longer than twelve months) as may be prescribed by law;

(c) upon the acquisition of any interest, asset or liability which is not entered in the Register of Interests; and

(d) upon the disposal of any interest, asset or liability which has been entered in the Register of Interests.

(4) A law made under section 47 of this Constitution shall make provision for giving effect to this section.

You will notice that section 60A says that the Speaker shall maintain a Register of Interests. Every member of the Assembly is required to enter in the Register all his assets and interests, and those of his family members as well. The Assembly was supposed to pass a law regulating how this is to be done. This law will say, for example, that the declaration is to be made on oath. It will say that any member committing perjury will go to gaol for up to seven years. That is the penalty for perjury. Basdeo Panday of Trinidad, former Prime Minister, failed to disclose a bank account in a London bank held by his wife. In 2006, he was sentenced by the Magistrate to a term of two years imprisonment. He later got off on appeal to the Court of Appeal. We would expect that the Anguilla law will go on to say that the register is not to be secret. Any member of the public is entitled to see a copy of it. Any member of the Assembly who fails to file a declaration commits an offence and can be prosecuted. We have been waiting patiently for eighteen years now for this Constitutional amendment to be brought into effect.

In September 2007, last year, things began to change. The Hon David Carty, Speaker of the House, made a speech in the House of Assembly. He said then, “. . . a draft bill for a new law requiring members to register their interests with the Speaker’s Office as mandated by section 60A of the Constitution is likewise ready for circulation to members and I trust will appear in the next publication of the Gazette”.

Needless to say, no such Bill was ever published in the Gazette. No such Bill has, so far as I know, ever been circulated to the Bar Association for comment. No member of the public has had a chance to make suggestions before the members of the House firm up their minds on it. I wondered who had stopped the Speaker’s initiative all these months. What stopped the Bill from being published in the Gazette for all of us to comment before it goes to the House for debate?

So, I contacted a member of the House. We now learn that the A-G’s Chambers were working diligently on the draft since September last, five months ago. The Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, the Hon Keesha Webster, finished giving their drafting instructions to the A-G since early October. It took a lot of time to change “Trinidad” or whatever to “Anguilla”, and to cut out the Senate provisions in the original draft. Just last week the A-G finally got back to the Speaker with a revised draft.

Members of the House of Assembly finally have this draft in their hands for study. They will be making up their minds long before we the public get a chance to make suggestions. We will be lucky if we get an effective Registration of Interests Act before the next general elections when the present representatives all retire from the House as they have promised us. It is difficult to accept that there could be a valid reason why the Bill, a first draft of which was ready for circulation to the members since last September, has not yet been shown to the public.

I have a prophecy to make. Any politician who credibly takes up the crusade of Integrity in Public Office legislation before the next elections in any one of our islands is bound to win his seat. It is the one sure platform for success in elections in our West Indies today. Barbados proved it, if we needed evidence. The people of Anguilla, too, cry out for this matter to be taken seriously.

Which of our upcoming young politicians will make us a promise to publish and promote such legislation? That is one candidate who will gain all our votes.

And, if she fails to deliver, I hope she will be a one-term representative.

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