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EDITORIAL: Ignorance is no defence for lawmakers

LAST month, an American tourist faced court in The Bahamas.

The tourist had been arrested at Lynden Pindling International Airport after marijuana-laced gummies were found in his luggage.

When facing the court, he said he didn’t know the gummies were illegal in The Bahamas.

“I would’ve never brought them if I knew they were illegal,” he told the court, before admitting “it’s a really tough lesson learned to be honest”.

The tourist pleaded guilty and the case was concluded.

A minor case to be talking about in our editorial column, you might think, but it demonstrates a very simple, straightforward point.

“I didn’t know” is no defence in the eyes of the law.

Which brings us to those who would be our lawmakers, the Members of Parliament.

It is a requirement for parliamentarians to file their financial disclosures on time. That deadline is March 1. March has come and gone this year, so the deadline has long passed.

Some parliamentarians, it has been reported elsewhere, did not know there was such a legal requirement, according to Public Disclosures Commission chairman Bishop Victor Cooper. Again, we should reiterate, “I didn’t know” is not an acceptable defence.

It also defies sense.

Year in, year out, The Tribune has pursued the question of whether parliamentarians have made their declarations as required by law. Many may see it as something of a nuisance, but it doesn’t matter, it is a legal obligation. It doesn’t matter what colour shirt you wear, red or yellow, it is a necessity.

To say as a lawmaker that you did not know means that you have less knowledge of what is required for your role than most Tribune readers.

Worse, it means you have not shown the merest interest in what the duties of your post require.

Even worse, it means there is no process to notify parliamentarians of the necessary processes and deadlines involved. It doesn’t take much – all it takes is a memo, an email, an announcement in the parliamentary Whatsapp group.

After all, one of the current MPs is Myles Laroda, who is a Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister and formerly in charge of the Public Disclosures Commission. Need advice on what you need to do to comply with the law? Your parliamentary colleague is sitting right there.

Some parliamentarians are saying that extra assistance is needed to help officials meet their obligations.

Never mind that many, many of their predecessors have met those obligations over the decades, apparently the current crop needs an accountant or perhaps a few to help them out.

That’s an idea suggested by Fred Mitchell MP in January when he noted that members often scramble to complete their reports. Those who have failed to do so were apparently not listening to the words of the PLP chairman either.

That said, assistance in meeting the requirements of the post is not an unreasonable position – but perhaps with a caveat.

This requirement has long been badly treated. It is a serious matter. The penalties involved can include fines or even prison time. But too often the public has been told little about who has disclosed and what has been disclosed.

There is a requirement to gazette the declarations, so the public can see who has declared and who has not – but that hasn’t been done in more than a decade.

So perhaps it is reasonable to offer assistance to get the job done – but only if the job is going to be done right. Gazette the declarations as required – and for those parliamentarians who do not meet the deadline, proceed according to the law.

Because there is no fear of a penalty actually being imposed, it seems there is a lax attitude to the matter. Change that. This is in place to ensure transparency, to combat corruption and to ensure our lawmakers answer to the public. It is a very basic requirement – and “I didn’t know” isn’t a good enough answer.

Comments

sheeprunner12 3 months ago

What will/can Victor Cooper do????????? .............. Will/Can he enforce the law??????

Same SH, different regime in power ....................... Don't hold your breath, folks

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moncurcool 3 months ago

That is the contempt that MPs treat laws in the Bahamas.

Rightly said, I didn't know is not acceptable. And if they it mans they are MPs who don't know the requirements of their position. Can you imagine people who do not know the requirement oof their positions are the ones running the country and making laws? Does that right there not tell you the problem our country is in?

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The_Oracle 3 months ago

The other requirement often omitted is gazetting new laws and amendments to existing laws. If they do not, (which is often) it makes Ignorance of the law a viable defense in court..

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