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Thursday, Aug 18, 2022

New Register of Interest Act will extend to others in public life

New Register of Interest Act will extend to others in public life

The new Register of Interests Act (ROIA) introduced in the House of Assembly (HOA) yesterday will not only apply to elected officials this time around and also proposes stiffer consequences for officials who do not declare their assets on time.

The Register of Interests is a record kept of the financial interests of parliamentarians. 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. The legislation is being updated because last year’s Commission of Inquiry (COI) unearthed that HOA members had been disregarding this law almost with impunity over the years.

In his introduction of the ROIA 2022, Premier Dr Natalio said calls about strengthening good governance, accountability, transparency, and other tenets of a strong and well-functioning democracy were happening long long before the COI.

“Certainly, this matter became topical for the community during the Commission of Inquiry hearings when each member went before the commissioner and answered questions as it related to the Register of Interest. Many of us, myself included, had not declared interest on time,” Dr Wheatley said.

“To be fair, there are some aspects of the process which need to be reformed to ensure that interest is filed on time. And I am not just speaking about the penalties. We know that based on the old Act, the very same day we are sworn in, we are supposed to declare interest and several of us had no idea that was the case, and we missed that deadline right off the bat,” the Premier added.

He added that declaring interest on time must be improved in the system and in the new bill the government is proposing.

“We have serious penalties for not declaring interest on time. I certainly believe that these penalties will get members’ attention including my own attention,” Dr Wheatley said.

Who else will be required to declare

He added that the Register of Interest, up until this point, only applied to elected officials and the conclusion the government has come to after all the debate is that the register should be public.

“It is important for the public to know, especially those persons in public life that this new register of interest will not just apply to elected members. The scope of it has extended to persons who are permanent secretaries, persons who are in a position of authority, heads of departments and other groups. So, the calls for transparency from elected officials will now extend to others in public life,” the Premier said.

He explained that officials must declare what assets they possess along with that of their immediate family. Dr Wheatley said he understood that some people may be concerned about that and perhaps some of the persuasive arguments used by elected officials over the years as to why it should not be public will become relevant to other people.

“They will start to consider how much of things they once considered private should now be exposed to the public. That is a careful balance which we will strike in the committee stage (the closed-door debate of the bill) between details which should be considered private and details that we want to be transparent about. We will have to strike the balance on which bodies and which members it should apply to, and which persons connected to those in public life should be impacted by this. But the society is calling for greater transparency and we are providing that greater transparency,” Dr Wheatley said.

“It is not popular to say but elected officials make great sacrifices to serve. Often we only hear the opposite side of it and the perceived benefits but there is quite a bit of sacrifice which is often made by persons who serve in public life and honestly, I have great respect for those who have served for so long and have made those sacrifices over a great period of time. We have come to members to make yet another sacrifice, which is to sacrifice private details as it relates to the declaration of their assets and certainly the threshold for operating in public life as it pertains to transparency has gone up a few notches as it relates to the introduction and passage of this bill,” the Premier added.


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