Amnesty in Barbados

Amnesty in Barbados
Photo by George Alleyne
George Alleyne

Barbados is introducing for all public officers an anti-corruption law aimed at halting the sleaze that apparently existed in the immediate past, and government is offering an amnesty as a chance for some to come clean before the hammer of justice falls.

The Integrity in Public Life Bill that is currently being discussed in the island’s Parliament is the first piece of new legislation introduced by the young government of Prime Minister Mia Mottley based on a campaign promise to stamp out what appeared to be many instances of misappropriation of public money and misuse of government resources for personal gain.

An introductory note to this proposed legislation explains, “this Bill would establish a regime, including an integrity commission, to promote the integrity of persons in public life and strengthen measures for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of acts of corruption.”

“What this legislation seeks simply to do is to create an institution that will hold each and every member of this parliament, the executive [cabinet], permanent secretaries or head of departments, chairmen of boards, judges, magistrates … who assume a fiduciary leadership position, accountabl,e” Mottley said in Parliament Tuesday.

“The wholesale plundering that took place with the fiat of a government must never happen in this country again.”

Pointing out that for each corrupt public official there must be at least one collaborator “because it takes two hands to clap” Mottley appealed to such persons to “examine their conscience and recognise that this government is prepared to give people the opportunity to come forward, ask for forgiveness and let us move forward…It’s almost a truth and reconciliation moment as happened in South Africa.”

At the same time she warned, “if there are others who are part of the same transaction who chose not to come forward and they are found out, they would feel the full weight of the law as the law is to be determined because there is one law in the country.”

The prime minister’s plea to persons who participated in past corrupt acts to use the Whistle-Blower clause of the coming legislation to confess and protect themselves is not directed to those who continue or repeat corrupt activities.

She said whistle-blowers will be protected for “things in the past, not ongoing, transgressions because immunity does not extend to today’s transgressions or tomorrow’s. Recidivists are not treated in the same way as a first-time offender”.

Mottley’s statement comes one week after Attorney General Dale Marshall vowed to prosecute all high-ranking officials of past governments suspected of misappropriation of the island’s money or misuse of its resources.

Nonetheless, the Prime Minister Tuesday said that her government of almost two months will not use millions in state funds to go on a witch hunt. “We’re not about that, but we will deal with the evidence that is before us … through nothing more than a forensic audit in dealing with some of these institutions and some of these people who have taken this country for a ride,” she said.

The proposed law has been subject to discussion in Parliament since last week and will soon go to the stage of inviting public comment before being refined for enactment into legislation.