Harris Supports Principle of Integrity in Public Life Legislation

Recently, a copy of the proposed bill – which seeks to promote accountability and transparency in government – was forwarded to the clerk of the House of Parliament for inclusion on the Order Paper for the next sitting of Parliament slated for 28th April, 2011.

According to reports, however, the draft legislation was not included on the Order Paper for that sitting and thus, would not be debated then.

In an exclusive interview with MiyVue.com, Dr. Harris said the principle of the legislation one that is to be commended.

“I have not had a chance to read the bill and to properly study it to see what the content is and so, I am speaking about the principle and it is one about which I am supportive. One would have to look at the bill, read it and get a full sense of how it complies with the expectations…

“The principle of it is one that is commendable and noteworthy. Indeed it is that which the Labour Party in its manifesto in 1993 and again in 1995 made a strong commitment to pursue. Unfortunately we have not been able to bring that bit of legislation ourselves or have it passed. It was brought to Parliament but it was only given the first reading and then I think it lapsed…Since then, it has not been brought back. So in principle, I am fully in support of the Integrity in Public Life Bill. I think it must become part of the fabric of accountability in modern democratic societies. We have similar pieces of legislation in Antigua, in Trinidad and Tobago and in other member states within CARICOM. Therefore the principle itself is one which we can allow and one which I think the government on a whole is supportive of.”

The Senior Minister, when asked if he thinks the bill will see any success in terms of being passed into law, suggested that a major determining factor of that is the content of the bill.

“Generally for a bill to succeed in Parliament, it has to have the support of the majority of members in parliament and in our model, it basically means largely that it has to have the support of the government side for it to succeed since the government controls the majority of members in the national assembly…For it to succeed, the government would have to support it to give it a majority. So in our chamber of 11, it will need to have at least, I would say 6 members supporting that. One would have to look at it, look at the content and see if there is anything in it which would cause serious objection. But as I said the principle shouldn’t be objectionable because it is one which the government had proclaimed, the government brought a piece of legislation before and unfortunately, it was not brought to conclusion…”

Minister Harris suggested that, because this is such a serious piece of legislation which needs to support of government to be passed, “a committee be established including members from both sides who could sit down, look at it, and bring a consensual approach. We have had similar approaches in other jurisdictions with respect to pieces of legislation that one considers fundamental to democracy and one’s way of life so it ends up being legislation which has strong support across the aisle.

“We have seen in Trinidad and Tobago under Kamla Persad when they were dealing with the Interception of Communication Bill. She felt that that was such a fundamental matter impacting upon the rights of citizens that she adjourned the House and established a committee of the House to meet and to find common ground rather than her using a very strong majority to have that bill passed through the house. So I think that perhaps this perhaps would be one such bill and maybe if we get across-the-board support for the legislation and work it together, the country would be happy for the outcome that would eventuate.

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