THE Organisation for Responsible Governance (ORG), a non-partisan, not-for-profit civic foundation aimed at fostering better governance, has called on the public to “get informed and get involved” in the lawmaking process as parliamentarians prepare to debate key corruption-fighting legislation.
Touting the potential impact of the bills, ORG is urging Bahamians to review the recently tabled Ombudsman and Integrity Commission Bills and submit recommendations.
“When the bills were tabled, Minister of State for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson encouraged everyone to read, understand and give feedback on the bills. We echo this plea and call on citizens concerned with corruption at all levels of our society to review the bills,” said Matt Aubry, executive director of ORG.
The Integrity Commission Bill 2017 will dissolve the current Public Disclosure Committee and establish a comprehensive anti-corruption body to reform and investigate issues of corruption, public disclosure, and malfeasance, as well as to educate the public on issues of corruption and integrity in government. The much-anticipated Ombudsman Bill will establish an Office of the Ombudsman, an advocate for the people in the event of government maladministration.
In a bid to encourage feedback and consultation, ORG will be collecting and consolidating recommendations from members of the public for submission to the Office of the Attorney General and members of the House of Assembly. Persons interested in reviewing the bills can download them and submit their recommendations at www.orgbahamas.com/anticorruption. For more information persons can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Both bills have the potential to be gamechangers for government accountability,” said Mr Aubry. “Whether they meet this potential will be determined based on how well the drafted bills equip the ombudsman and commissioner to be fair, unbiased, and effective in the carry out of their duties. We have the opportunity to work together to ensure this is the case.”
The recommendations from the public will be added to submissions from civil society groups and ORG’s internal evaluation and benchmarking, currently underway.
“The bills are still under review by ORG’s Accountable Governance Committee, however upon first review there are some trends that stand out,” said Mr Aubry. “We see in these bills a general tendency for broad powers to be consolidated in the prime minister and his Cabinet. For example, the chairman of the Integrity Commission is appointed by the prime minister without consultation and in general the PM is given heavy influence in the selection of the commission. We anticipate that many of the recommendations of ORG and other civil society organisations will focus on opening up these processes to greater input, and ensuring that the offices have the autonomy they require to do their duties such that even the appearance of bias is avoided.
“We are also pleased to see a section dedicated to whistleblower protection within the Integrity Commission Bill. ORG and our partner organisations have advocated for legal protection against retaliation for those who come forth with evidence of corruption, and we are happy to see a step toward this. This form of protection is a crucial component to battling the culture of corruption.”
ORG, which has advocated for public consultation in the past for such bills as the Interception of Communications Bill, hopes that appealing to the people will be the beginning of greater public involvement in the legislative process.
“ORG believes it is a step in the right direction that this administration has expressed on multiple occasions its commitment to engaging civil society and opening bills up to public consultation,” said Chauntez Dillet-Wilson, ORG communications coordinator.
“However, to embrace the spirit of open, transparent governance we must have a standardised system of public consultation – one in which experts, civil society, and the people, are educated and appealed to in the drafting stage. This has been shown not only to improve policy and legislation, but to make implementation cheaper and faster. We hope that Bahamians realise they have an important role to play in this process and take advantage of this opportunity to raise their voice.”