After two years of resistance to making substantial changes in transparency concerning the interests held by lawmakers and senior public officials, Cabinet has finally agreed to move forward with the Commission of Inquiry’s (COI) recommendation to overhaul the Register of Interests Act.
Effectively, the Register of Interests is a record kept of the financial interests of legislators. Its purpose is to give them the mechanism to publicly declare any private interests which may conflict or may be perceived to conflict with their public duties.
The COI revealed that numerous lawmakers were extremely late in declaring their interests and that some never declared their interests at all. A previous attempt at overhauling the legislation was met with strong resistance from lawmakers, who decided to pass a watered-down and severly restrictive version of the COI’s recommendations to the Act instead. The government also missed a December COI implementation framework deadline for the revised law to include senior public servants.
A post-meeting statement from Cabinet’s January 24 meeting showed that the government decided that the Deputy Governor’s Office should provide instructions for amendments to the Register of Interests Act and other pertinent legislation.
The proposed changes include making the Register of Interests for members of the House of Assembly fully accessible to the public at no cost.
Furthermore, the proposed amendments seek to extend the requirement to declare interests to include senior public officers, specifically those at the level of Heads of Departments, Deputy Secretaries, and officers in Grades 19 to 21.
Because of previous resistance, Cabinet likely suggested that the register for these officers remain private and made accessible only to the Governor and Deputy Governor.
Additionally, the proposed revisions advocate for empowering the Registrar of Interests with the authority to refer matters concerning integrity directly to the Integrity Commission for advice.
Former Governor John Rankin noted in his last quarterly review that he previously called on the government to take proactive steps to bring good governance legislation into force — which had been passed for over two years — that could be used to hold officials to account.
He said these included a strengthened Integrity in Public Life Act, Whistleblower Act, and amended Register of Interests Act.
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