By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
ORGANISATION for Responsible Governance has renewed calls for the debate and passage of the highly anticipated Integrity Commission bill, asserting that its passage would assist in the handling of corruption cases.
In a statement yesterday, the Organisation for Responsible Governance (ORG) said the politically charged atmosphere surrounding alleged corruption cases both recently and historically, demonstrates the need for stronger institutions and a neutral anti-corruption body such as that put forth in the bill.
The organisation’s executive director Matt Aubry in the statement urged politicians on both sides of the political divide and the public at large to recognise the vital need for an independent Integrity Commission in ensuring that anti-corruption efforts remain above politics.
He contended that such a system, once established and operated correctly, “cannot be used for scapegoating”.
Mr Aubry said: “Regardless of what side one stands on, it is easy to see that the incidents in the past week, and indeed many of the instances of prosecution of public figures over successive administrations, demonstrate a need to create an atmosphere where not even the perception of political bias may prevail, from start to finish of this process.”
ORG stressed while it has repeatedly pressed for debate and passage of the Integrity Commission Bill and Ombudsman Bill, neither has been progressed since being tabled in 2017.
The organisation said that while both sides have endorsed the bills, there continues to be little to no push to get it past the finish-line.
The group stated that recent events might be a motivating factor for those dissatisfied with the process, regardless of party affiliation.
“That the process for addressing corruption continues to be so contentious highlights the need for institutions like an Integrity Commission. ORG is focused on systemic change that applies regardless of which party holds power,” Mr Aubry said. “We seek to create solutions that address the root of these issues and minimise the occurrence or appearance of corruption.
“The focus of good governance should be on benefiting the people and ensuring transparent, fair and accountable government. Until we pass laws and address the culture of corruption it is the citizens of The Bahamas, not political parties, that will bear the brunt of the costs of corruption.
“The Integrity Commission and Ombudsman bills were tabled in October 2017 as an answer to the Prime Ministerʼs campaign promise to focus on transparency, accountability and anti-corruption.”
Mr Aubry said: “The Ombudsman Bill will establish a body to pro-actively address misgovernment and advocate for the people in the event of government maladministration.”
“The Integrity Commission Bill will dissolve the current Public Disclosure Committee and establish a comprehensive and independent anti-corruption body to reform anti-corruption policy, investigate issues of corruption, administer public disclosure, and educate the public.”
He added: “This bill could be the first step to change a culture of corruption decades in the making. Ultimately these bills are about power to the people, giving the Bahamian people avenues to hold those in power to account. That is heart of accountable governance.”
ORG claimed that occurrences or perception of corruption or political victimization went beyond laws and institutions and required a shift in culture and mindset from one of corruption to one of Integrity.
The group said a national public education and participation campaign would address corruption and building integrity as a nation.