The assertions of government wrong-doing, no matter which administration has been occupying the seat of power on Church Street, have at times been personal and venomous but in most cases accurate in their attributions; though admittedly others have been nothing but malicious in their intent.
That is why today the call for the passage of Integrity in Public Life Legislation has been so strongly supported by a wide cross section of responsible groups, individuals and institutions in society. Simply put, the view has been that there is much urgency needed for relevant laws to protect the financial integrity of the public purse against unscrupulous politicians, ministers of government and other public officials. There is much fear by citizens that our political leaders are too susceptible to the temptations of gifts of financial gain, not for state, but self; as extended too often by equally corrupt business associates, seeking access to high office holders and to score a corporate advantage.
Now, after first being introduced for its initial reading in parliament back in the 1990s by the former PAM Administration; and despite the equally first reading of a similar bill given in the National Assembly by the incumbent Labour Government in 1995, no bi-partisan effort has surfaced to have such an important pillar of legislation introduced to promote good governance. Recognizing that it was some 17 years since the Labour Government abandoned its own effort to move to a second reading, the opposition parties of PAM and CCM, made a fatal effort earlier this year to table a “private bill” into the legislature.
However, the government benches used clever parliamentary procedures to thwart the actions of PAM and CCM.
Opposition Leader Mr. Mark Brantley earlier this year, on the occasion of the official launch of the OECS Assembly, in Antigua, used the forum to sensitize fellow legislatures from the Windward and Leeward Islands that St. Kitts and Nevis stands alone as the odd territory where no such legislation exists.
This issue has been one of the key principles on which the opposition PAM party has campaigned in the past. As a matter of fact, it was taken with such seriousness that the former PAM leader, Lindsay Grant, voluntarily released figures of his personal and business holdings for the scrutiny of the public. He was ridiculed by politicians on the government side and accused of not fully disclosing all his assets; but his action was a clear demonstration of the seriousness he and apparently his party, attached to the whole question of integrity in public life.
The message about the need for laws to govern the activities of our legislators and leaders was recently addressed by the very distinguished former Governor of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, Sir Probyn Inniss, who opined that he is of the view that such legislation is deeply connected with the core principles of the Labour Movement of times past.
“I have long been advocating that whatever might be the misgivings individuals have, as a country, we should have, and should have had for a long time, integrity in public life legislation, said Sir Probyn on local radio on Tuesday, 6th November,2012.
Inniss, in an article that appeared on MiyVue.com on 6th November, 2012, also said it has nothing to do with the individuals; it is a matter of a country, saying to its citizens, that this is what this country stands for. “It stands for integrity, it stands for fairness and these are principles which our country should adhere to and should try to emulate in terms of all of their public activities,” said the former governor who is also a trained lawyer.
For many years Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas and his Labour Party Government have been heavily and openly criticized for failing to bring back the bill to parliament, and as some of his opponents have put it, he is fearful of the consequences, given the many riches that his opponents claim he has amassed since coming to office in 1995.
Whether acceptable or not, Prime Minister Douglas at one point had maintained that it was still on the books and his current Attorney General, when asked about it stated that it was one of the legislative measures the administration was hoping to reactivate.
Now it is back. On Wednesday 21st November, 2012, Integrity in Public Life Legislation will be one of the bills to be introduced for a (third) “first reading” in the National Assembly.
More than an introduction will be demanded though, as citizens would want to be involved in the debate to help structure the tenets of the bill and to ensure that there is national awareness. What would be the ultimate outcome is unknown but many are anticipating that before the end of next year, the bill would move to its second and third reading and become law. One thing is certain though, there will be a long and divided debate about who should and should not be included in the bill. The wider the net, the more controversial and divided will be the discussion; and in the end, an issue that united many, would have caused further divisions, purely along party loyalties. And as some would suggest, perhaps that could be by design, so that the government could claim that they did bring the bill to parliament but the opposition failed to support it; though they called for it. Essentially therefore, while credit ought to be given for the return of the bill and the debate to follow, citizens ought to be careful that political shrewdness is not being commissioned to support what is all but a legislative farce. The added hope is that this assumption though, is baseless.
Already, Prime Minister Douglas is hinting just how wide he wishes the net of accountability to be spread. On Tuesday morning, (20th November, 2012), he stated on his weekly radio program, “The matter of integrity in public life should also include all those persons who are in leadership in corporate society who also need to ensure that there is integrity in public life.”
He continued, “So integrity in public must not only apply to those in government and government employees or government ministers, it must also apply to those who are parliamentarians generally, those who are vying to become ministers of government, which would include candidates of political parties and the leadership of political parties, …those in government and those in opposition….these are the important reasons why we would want to make sure that there is debate in the general public on these issues.”
With respect to the inclusion of private business executives, it is going to be interesting to observe the reaction of the main private sector organization, the St. Kitts and Nevis Chamber of Industry & Commerce, CIC.