By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
IN keeping with its pledge to tackle corruption and introduce a new standard of accountability in the country, the Minnis Administration tabled its highly anticipated Integrity Commission bill yesterday.
The bill would enshrine a new code of conduct for public officials, establish a commission to investigate alleged corruption and deepen the financial disclosure responsibilities of public officials.
The bill gives unprecedented and wide-ranging powers to the Integrity Commission, allowing it to exercise powers similar to the Supreme Court during investigations and to exercise search and seizure powers otherwise reserved for the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF).
Through the bill, public officials who can’t explain the source of money and properties in their possession could be imprisoned for no less than six months and no more than three years.
The bill says: “Where a person who is or was a public official is found to be in possession of property or a pecuniary resource disproportionate to his known sources of income, and he fails to produce satisfactory evidence to prove that the possession of the property or pecuniary resource was acquired by lawful means, he commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine and to a term of imprisonment of not less than six months and not more than three years.”
The bill also makes it illegal for public officials not to disclose their knowledge of people “likely to be engaged in an act of corruption”, such people would be liable to a six months prison sentence.
The Integrity Commission would consist of seven commissioners: a justice of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal appointed by the prime minister after consultation with the leader of the Opposition; a chartered or certified accountant of at least seven years standing, appointed by the Governor General after consultation with the Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants; a person who is a counsel and attorney-at-law of ten or more years, appointed by the Governor-General after consultation with the Bahamas Bar Association; a member of the clergy appointed by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Bahamas Christian Council; two people appointed by the Prime Minister on the recommendation of members of civil society; and a person appointed by the Prime Minister after consultation with the leader of the Opposition. The commissioners will be appointed for three years and eligible for one further three-year re-appointment.
The Integrity Commission will be empowered to employ “investigating officers,” people who would not be members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) and therefore not subject to the Police Force Act, police regulations or police force orders.
The commission’s investigating officers will have the power to arrest and execute search warrants.
A panel consisting of a magistrate or justice or retired magistrate or justice, the Commissioner of Police and one other person appointed who is not a former or current member of the RBPF will comprise the complaints panel and will have the power to investigate the way the Integrity Commission deals with complaints against investigating officers.
The bill would empower the Integrity Commission to “examine practices and procedures of public bodies in order to facilitate the discovery of corrupt practices, and to secure the revision of methods of work or procedures which, in its opinion, may be conducive to such corruption.”