By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
A MONTH after the government missed its self-imposed deadline for prosecuting delinquent public officials under the Public Disclosure Act, the Public Disclosure Commission is still in limbo.
Yesterday, Lemarque Campbell, chairperson of Citizens for a Better Bahamas (CBB), said the stalled PDC appointments were concerning given the upcoming deadline for newly elected members of Parliament and senators to submit their full disclosures.
The PDA states that "every senator and member of Parliament shall furnish to the commission, as and when required to do so by this section, a declaration of assets, income and liabilities in the form prescribed".
In the case of persons appointed or elected after the annual March 1 deadline, the act states that disclosures must be filed within three months from the date.
This would mean an August 10 deadline for new MPs, and an August 22 deadline for new senators.
"This raises a lot of concerns," Mr Campbell said. "It should be a priority given that the government campaigned on transparency and accountability. This (act) is a foundation for ensuring transparency and accountability, and it starts from at the top.
"They need to really set a tone going forward even with respect to new MPs and senators. For many years it's been disregarded, for all the promises that were made and given, we haven't seen anything as a result of the deadline.
"And then going forward it's very concerning that the commission isn't appointed given that new MPs and senators have to make their first disclosures. It leaves us questioning how viable the PDC is going to be."
Mr Campbell added: "These are the low hanging fruits so before when you talk about public procurement reform, and anti-corruption tools, these are already there to ensure transparency and accountability."
PDC Chairman Myles Laroda maintained yesterday he has not received his letter of appointment, and the group has not met to determine whether parliamentarians will be reported to Attorney General Carl Bethel for prosecution of non-compliance.
There was a July 3 timeline set by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis for the files on delinquent disclosures to be sent to the Office of the Attorney General.
Civil society groups have expressed concerns over the incoming Free National Movement administration's progress on campaign promises that were deemed "low hanging fruit" like enforcement of the PDA and the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act.
However, Organisation for Responsible Governance (ORG) official Matt Aubry yesterday remained hopeful the government will use the current environment to lean on civil society partners for greater input.
"At the end of the day I feel like there are changes and things that need to happen but I'm still more focused on the long-term. We are disappointed historically with what's going on with FOIA. We do feel like more can get done but we also realise a lot of underlying structural things that [government] is working on.
"We're not ready at this stage to start to say that nothing is being done, what we're looking for is more levels of disclosure and a clear path from government across the board so that we can work together effectively," Mr Aubry said.
"FOIA needs to be driven from civil society and the private sector. Government will embrace it but the understanding of its value comes from outside of government.
"Government has talked a lot about this, I think we're still in the early stages to see how this moves forward but by September we need to see clear movement and a pathway. Either they enact the (FOIA) as is and put it into force or look and review some of the suggestions," Mr Aubry said.