Saturday, April 13, 2024

We need that Conflict Of Interest Code

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“GIVEN THAT SERVICE in parliament is a public trust, parliamentarians are expected to act in the public interest at all times.”
And that’s important, advises Jean T. Fournier, the independent ethics officer for Canada’s Senate, because “parliamentarians serve the public interest and play a vital role in our system of government”.
Although Fournier was focusing on the upper chamber in Ottawa, the ethics officer’s words can apply equally to Barbados’ Parliament and how members of both the House of Assembly and the Senate should conduct their affairs. In this context, is the Barbados Parliament paying sufficient attention to the ethical and moral compass of its members?
As Fournier insisted recently, parliamentarians “are expected to act in the public interest at all times, with openness and impartiality”. Just as important, they “must not use their official position for personal gain or to obtain any benefit for their family or third parties”.
That’s not all. They are to uphold the highest standards in order to avoid any real or apparent conflict of interest and must “arrange their private affairs to prevent any conflicts from arising and if conflict does arise to resolve it in a way that promotes public confidence”.
The CLICO debacle, in general, and the legal role of late Prime Minister David Thompson in the company’s affairs, in particular, point to the need for serious parliamentary reform in Barbados.
The Conflict Of Interest Code For Members Of The House Of Commons was adopted in 2004 and the Conflict Of Interest Act, which applies to ministers, parliamentary secretaries and ministerial advisors, was passed in 2006. The first conflict of interest officer for the Senate assumed duties in 2005, almost a quarter of a century after Ontario became the first jurisdiction in Canada to enact legislation governing lawmakers’ behaviour in 1988.
British Columbia followed in 1990, Alberta in 1992, so that by 2002, all ten Canadian provinces and the three territories had legislation that created independent ethics commissioners to monitor the actions of parliamentarians.
It should be recalled that Barbados attempted to enact integrity legislation almost 30 years ago during the Tom Adams administration, but after it was approved by both parties in the House of Assembly, vigorous opposition of some independent senators in the Upper Chamber derailed it.
They had articulated a real fear that such legislation which required public officers to declare their assets would discourage many upright citizens from stepping forward into public life.
What’s required now is a comprehensive package of reforms that would impose strict conflict of interest stipulations on parliamentary conduct.

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