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Govt Slammed For 'Excuses' Over Public Disclosure Act

By AVA TURNQUEST

Tribune Chief Reporter

aturnquest@tribunemedia.net

CITIZENS for a Better Bahamas (CBB) yesterday slammed the government for failing to meet its campaign promises on enforcement of the Public Disclosure Act.

In a press statement the advocacy group called on citizens to reject "implausible" and "unreasonable" excuses and demand the full enforcement of the critical anti-corruption law.

Lemarque Campbell, Citizens for a Better Bahamas' chairman and Transparency International's country representative, said: "Civil society can't remain silent on this issue. You have countries such as the UK where the assets, incomes, liabilities and campaign contributions for government officials are automatically posted and updated online for the public to view. Yet we can't even get the foundation right - by having the Public Disclosure Commission meet in a timely manner."

Disclosures

Present and former parliamentarians and senators, along with senior public officers, are required to submit their disclosures to the PDC by March each year.

Earlier last month The Tribune reported the Public Disclosure Commission had yet to conduct any work because the commission's building on East Bay Street is mould infested.

At the time PDC Chairman Myles Laroda confirmed, outside of initial introductions to staff, the commission's work was stalled.

This came more than three months after the government's self-imposed deadline to prosecute delinquent public officials under the Public Disclosure Act.

In a report published by the Nassau Guardian nearly two weeks later, Mr Laroda confirmed its status remained unchanged.

The CBB statement read: "Recent revelations by the Public Disclosure Commission chairman, Myles Laroda, confirm that the work of his committee is on hold with no clear timeline for resumption in sight due to a mould infestation in their East Bay St building.

"The chairman's implausible excuse for further delaying the enforcement of this long-neglected law should send a strong signal to the public that more than mould is beginning to fester."

It continued: "The promise to correct the failure of previous administrations on this basic issue was a central and recurring theme throughout the governing party's campaign - and no doubt contributed to its success at the polls.

"However, public expectation for full and prompt enforcement of this law continues to go unmet due to one of the most far-fetched and preposterous reasons anyone could imagine - mould."

On June 6, Press Secretary to the Prime Minister Anthony Newbold told the media Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced former and sitting parliamentarians had three weeks to file delinquent disclosures or face the court for breaking the law.

The law specifies that people in breach could face a fine of $10,000 or two years in prison, or both, or confiscation of land if land is involved.

The July 3 deadline affected more than 20 MPs, while the number of parliamentarians who had not disclosed for an entire five-year term was put at "not less than six."

Delinquent parliamentarians were not named, and three missed the deadline; however, at the time, Mr Newbold said movement in the matter hinged on the appointment of two more board members to the Public Disclosure Commission.

Since then, the first annual deadline for newly elected members of Parliament and senators to submit their full disclosures has passed.

In the case of persons appointed or elected after the annual March 1 deadline, the Public Disclosure Act states disclosures must be filed within three months from the date - effectively, August 10 for MPs and August 22 for senators.

The CBB statement called the missed deadline "alarming".

"Citizens for a Better Bahamas calls on all citizens to reject these unreasonable excuses and demand that the government immediately make arrangements for the full and prompt enforcement of this important anti-corruption law. Corruption and lack of transparency has not only crippled our country, but has also been an affront to our democracy.

"A modern democracy striving towards its fullness can only progress when the rule of law is respected and applies to all. Any government that intends to foster an environment of integrity, transparency and accountability must be seen to act promptly and judiciously to uphold not only the laws which govern the masses but also themselves."

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