By TANEKA THOMPSON
Tribune News Editor
WHILE a group of parliamentarians last week suggested their salaries be subject to an independent review with a view to increasing how much they are paid, the government has not made public the annual financial disclosures of elected officials since 2012.
The disclosures were published in April 2012, weeks before the May 7 general election, and detailed the finances of the 133 candidates who vied for seats. At the time, there were 56 millionaires on that list.
In the absence of the public disclosures, it is unclear how many members of Parliament are obeying the law which requires them to disclose annually. Nor can Bahamians ascertain how much each MP is worth and how their assets have grown or diminished since assuming office. When contacted for comment Allan Benjamin, chairman of the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), would not say if members of Parliament and senators have complied with the Public Disclosure Act.
Last week Mr Benjamin said he could not give details on the issue and told this newspaper to read the laws governing public disclosures.
“We can only submit our report to Cabinet,” he said. “We send our reports to Cabinet and they decide if they are (printed in a gazette).”
When pressed about why the information has not been made public since 2012 Mr Benjamin said: “We can only send them in, that’s all we can do, we can’t go down to the gazette and say print it.”
When asked if the report has been submitted to Cabinet he said: “We have done what we are supposed to do.”
MPs are required by law to turn in their disclosures to the PDC by March each year. A summary of the declarations shall be published in a gazette, the law says.
The Act states that any person who does not comply with the law is liable to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or imprisonment of not more than two years.
According to the law, if a Parliamentarian deliberately does not disclose property owned in the Bahamas, the land can be seized and forfeited to the government.
Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr Hubert Minnis urged the government to publish the financial disclosures so they can be scrutinised by the public. He added that elected officials are not above the law and must comply with the Act.
“You can’t have laws enforced for one group and not for another,” Dr Minnis said on Friday.
“Until we have a law-abiding nation we will have the problems we face today compounded. We need that shift where the public knows what’s going on in government and in the country so that if the MPs are doing wrong it can be dealt with.”
The Killarney MP told The Tribune that he has submitted his disclosures to the Commission. He said he instructed his FNM parliamentarians to do the same, but could not confirm up to press time if they had complied.
Dr Minnis said his party will continue to push the government to enforce the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which was passed in 2012 by the Ingraham administration, so that people will have greater access to information that should be of public record.
He also said if the government fails to enforce the FOIA, the FNM will make the legislation a priority if it wins the next general election.
Dr Minnis added that passing an anti-corruption bill to deal with “corrupt officials” also will be top on the agenda for the FNM if the party returns to government.
On Friday State Minister for Finance Michael Halkitis said he was unaware of the status of the disclosures and could not say if they had been presented to Cabinet.
The issue of MPs’ incomes came into focus last week after a House of Assembly select committee recommended that the salaries of members of Parliament be reviewed.
The group noted that MPs have not received a salary increase in 25 years. The committee also recommended that the salaries of the deputy speaker of the House, the leader of government business and the leader of opposition business be reviewed.
Currently the Speaker of the House has a salary of $80,000 a year while his deputy receives $32,000. An MP’s salary is $28,000 a year.