Members of the public making false reports, as well as public officials giving misleading information to the Integrity Commission, under the proposed Integrity in Public Office Act, could attract thousands of dollars in fines and years behind bars.
The proposed legislation had its first reading in the House of Assembly recently, is currently in the public domain for consultation and feedback.
It states, “Any person who knowingly and mischievously makes or causes to be made a false report to the Commission or misleads the Commission by giving false information or by making false statements or accusations commits an offence and liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or both.”
On the other hand, for persons in public life or “any other person who obstructs or failed to assist an investigator who is duly authorized to carry out the powers conferred on him or her under section 16; or gives false or misleading information to the investigator or the Commission; commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding fifteen thousand dollars or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years.”
More about the Commission
The Act is proposing that an Integrity Commission be established, and it shall operate independently, with a five-member team.
The individual appointed to be the chairperson of the Commission must be a retired judge or an attorney at law of at least 15 years standing and has practiced in the Virgin Islands or within the jurisdiction of the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States.
The other members would include one person selected by the Governor, one nominated by the Premier, Leader of the Opposition and one nominated by the Christian Council.
The proposed Act informed that the appointment of the members of the Commission shall be made by the Governor and the chairperson shall be appointed by the Governor in agreement with the Premier who shall first consult the Leader of the Opposition and persons on this Commission shall possess “high integrity, capable of exercising competence, diligence, sound judgment an impartiality in fulfilling his or her duties pursuant to this Act.”
In the meantime, someone would be disqualified for appointment as a member if that individual “is a person in public life or is otherwise exercising a public function; has, at any time during the three years preceding the date of appointment, been a person in public life or otherwise exercised a public function; has, at any time during the five years immediately preceding the date of appointment, held office in a political party; or would otherwise be disqualified, in accordance with the Constitution, to be a member of the House of Assembly.
The bill before the House states said the Commission shall be tasked to receive and investigate complaints regarding any breaches or non-compliance with the provisions of this Act without prejudice to the provisions of any other enactment, conduct an investigation into corruption under this Act referred to it by anyone.
The Commission would have to make recommendations and to advise public bodies of any changes in practices and procedures which, in the opinion of the Commission, will reduce the likelihood or the occurrence of acts of corruption; conduct educational programmes and training relating to the role of the Commission in promoting ethical conduct; and perform other functions or exercise its powers as may be conferred, on it under this Act or any other enactment.
Furthermore, “The Commission shall hold such inquiries and conduct such power of the investigations as it considers necessary in relation to any alleged corruption or a Commission to breach of any other provisions of this Act,” it said.
If members of the public desires to allege or make a complaint against someone in public life or any other person exercising a public function in contravention of this Act may do so in writing to the Commission or orally, but it must be written by the person who is taking the complaint and signed by the complainant.
The complaint shall specify the person against whom the complaint is made; the details of the alleged Act committed under this Act; and such other particulars as may be prescribed.
Moreover, when the Commission launches its probe into complaints, with the use of a warrant, it can enter into premises occupied or used by a public authority or even the private premises for the purposes of searching for documents kept on the premises; inspecting documents or other things kept on the premises; and taking copies of relevant documents found on the premises.
The Commission would also have the power to summon and examine witnesses, and in the event, there is, in fact, a breach to this Act and an offence is committed, the Commission shall refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions together with a report of its findings; and forward to the Cabinet a report of its findings.