The Commission of Inquiry (COI) has rejected Attorney General (AG) Dawn Smith’s accusation that the former Registrar of Interests, Victoreen Romney-Varlack, committed a criminal offence in disclosing to former Governor Augustus Jaspert that legislators had been breaching 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.
However, the Act in and of itself prevents the Registrar from disclosing information relating to any declaration or matter in the register, among other things.
It was this context the AG relied upon in arguing that the information shared with the former governor was effectively in breach of section 13 of the Act and of the Registrar’s oath of confidentiality.
Smith said the Registrar had committed a criminal offence because the information was disclosed in the course of the Registrar’s duties under the Act and argued that the correspondence sent to House of Assembly (HOA) members related to their declarations.
The AG argued the only correct recourse for the Registrar to take was to seek expeditious legal advice about remedies that might’ve been available to her.
Smith called the former Registrar a “persistent offender“ for the alleged breaches that she had reportedly committed.
But in the COI report, Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom described the AG’s arguments as “inherently unattractive” and seemingly had no hope for redemption.
“Whilst there may be some purpose in keeping confidential the interests of [House of Assembly] members, there can be no (proper) purpose in keeping secret the fact that members generally (or a specific member) has or has not complied with his or her constitutional and statutory obligation to register whatever interests he or she has.”
He said it was clearly in the public interest and that of good governance to know whether elected officials had complied with their obligations.
Sir Gary noted that the AG’s argument was “on its head” in stating that the Registrar and the Governor acted illegally and against good governance in seeking to get wayward House members to comply with their obligations.
In December 2020 after the Registrar and former Governor Jaspert discussed the continued failure of House members to register their interests, the governor reportedly asked for further particulars from her.
The Registrar then sent a memorandum to him with an attached table setting out details of the House members’ defaulters and copies of her correspondence with three of the most serious defaulters who sought the required declarations.
This was reportedly not the first time that the Registrar had sought the assistance of successive governors in attempts to encourage House members to comply with their constitutional and statutory obligations.
While noting that the Registrar’s efforts were not a secret, Sir Gary said the former Premier, Dr Orlando Smith had also been copied into some of the exchanges.
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