Prioritize anti-corruption bills, says ORG

Prioritize anti-corruption bills, says ORG
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NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The government must push forward with urgency on its anti-corruption legislation urged a representative for the Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) yesterday.

Chauntez Dillet-Wilson, ORG’s communications coordinator, made the comment following the government’s adjournment for its Christmas break.

In October 2017, the government tabled two bills to strengthen its fight against corruption – the Integrity Commissions Bill and the Ombudsman Bill.

However, there has been no movement on the bills since.

“We continue to push for that to go forward and of course, we would have wished that it would have come forward before now,” Dillet-Wilson told Eyewitness News Online.

“It is imperative that we push forward with urgency on this legislation.

“We’ve passed the midpoint of this term.

“We know that implementation of these kinds of offices – we can see from the Freedom of Information Act – that this is a highly technical process to implement these kinds of transparency measures and anti-corruption measures and offices.

“We know that it will be time consuming, so we want to ensure that we pass this in time so that it can be in good footing as we go into the election time.

“[It’s] a time where eyes on corruption is a very critical, not just for the institutions themselves but of course for the people and the perception of the country.” 

In the lead up to the 2017 General Election, the Minnis administration ran on an anti-corruption platform.

Soon after coming into office, several former Cabinet ministers and senior government officials were hauled before the courts.

In 2017, Frank Smith was charged with abusing his Public Hospital’s Authority (PHA) chairman position, after Barbara Hanna, the owner of Magic Touch Cleaning, was awarded a $516,000 contract to clean the critical care unit of Princess Margaret Hospital.

Earlier this year, Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt threw out Smith’s corruption case, ruling there was “not a scintilla of evidence to support the fact that there was a meeting between Barbara Hanna and the accused prior to the award of the contract”.

Prosecutors filed an appeal against the magistrate’s decision; however, the Court of Appeal unanimously rebuked the application.

Last month, former Labour Minister Shane Gibson was found not guilty by a nine-member jury on all 15 counts of bribery brought against him.

Pointing to the public furor that surrounded those high profile trails, Chauntez-Dillet said, “One of the incredible things about the Integrity Commissions Bill is that not only does it make a lot of clarity around how corruptions should be dealt with but it gives an independent body to do investigations – of course in tandem with the Royal Bahamas Police Force and with representations with the Royal Bahamas Police Force within that body.

“…It also allows a level of accountability within that process which can eliminate some of the question marks that we may have seen.”

During the Smith case, it was revealed that Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands had awarded a second contract of $1.8 million to Hanna, and that National Security Minister Marvin Dames met with Hanna before she made an official complaint to police.

In her ruling on the matter, Ferguson-Pratt decried the “egregious” conduct of both ministers.

Speaking to those revelations, Chauntez-Dillet continued: “We can draw no conclusion on what might have happened in that process but the fact that we have any question marks at all is not good for the process of fighting corruptions.

“Having this independent body is crucial to clarifying that process but also to increasing the instances that these kinds of issues are brought to enforcement and that might not always be to court but I think that there is a perception that many of these things are happening without enforcement.”

She added that in the upcoming year, ORG will be launching an international integrity campaign, noting that the BETA version of their website is already available.

She said the “dotherightting.org” site provides information on how to report corruption and other complaints of misconduct, what corruption looks like in The Bahamas and how to join the fight against corruption.

“We think that corruption and integrity is not something that lives only in government and governments are not the only people that has the power to change this.

“Corruption is a culture. Integrity is a culture. So every single one of us has the power to change the culture of our country to one of integrity.”