By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Office of the Attorney General was never asked to take action against three officials who failed to disclose their assets and liabilities on time last year, according to Public Disclosures Commission chairman Myles Laroda.
One parliamentarian and two senators missed the disclosure deadlines on March 1, 2018 and the extended deadline on March 31, 2018.
Press Secretary Anthony Newbold told reporters in August that the prime minister directed the PDC chairman to give the Office of the Attorney General information concerning the officials who failed to submit their financial information as the law demands.
Explaining why the AG’s Office never took action, Mr Laroda said yesterday: “The prime minister said to me, using his words, to let the law take its course. I wrote to the prime minister and the leader of opposition, the prime minister came back to me with his instructions, but when the commission met a few days later, there were three outstanding and if I’m not mistaken they came in later the same day. I wrote my letter like around 10am, it went on the news around 1pm but when we met later on those applications were already in. They were late but I wasn’t writing (the AG) to say they weren’t disclosed.”
Mr Laroda could not say yesterday if every official has sent their declarations on time this year. He said the PDC will meet today and he anticipates getting that information then.
Progressive Liberal Party chairman Fred Mitchell has said PLP parliamentarians and senators have all made their disclosures on time.
Those who fail to submit their declaration are liable to a $10,000 fine and/or two years in prison. Only the attorney general can initiate proceedings, however, and only the prime minister or the leader of the opposition can prompt such an action.
The weakness of the PDC has drawn criticism over the years. A bipartisan constitutional commission report in 2013 said: “…There are limitations on this body with respect to its investigative powers, and it certainly has no coercive powers. There can be no denying that there is a need for a body which would have the ability to ensure that ministers, parliamentarians and other senior officials are accountable and exercise probity in their affairs. In recent times, however, under successive governments, the public disclosure commission has become essentially a dead letter.”
The Integrity Commission Bill, which was tabled in 2017 but not yet passed in Parliament, would lead to the possible imprisonment for parliamentarians who fail to disclose their assets.
Violating that law could result in fines up to $15,000 and one year in prison. A parliamentarian or senator convicted under the law could be disqualified from holding public office for a period not exceeding five years.
Although the disclosures are required annually, reports of members’ financial information are rarely gazetted. The Integrity Commission Bill would give a commission the new power to gazette declarations without requiring permission from the prime minister. The commission would also be empowered to hold formal inquiries into matters relating to an official’s declaration. It is not clear when the Integrity Commission Bill will be debated in Parliament.