“EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK: Public must get involved in bill”

bloc-eric-editors-notebook

The one word on the lips of most Bajans today is corruption.

Be it at the barber shop, on Saturday morning in the Cheapside Market, by the water cooler at workplaces and particularly in corporate suites, this is the word dominating discussion.

The Mia Mottley administration has promised that this will be a front-burner issue, hence its Integrity in Public Life Bill 2018.

The ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP) is doing the right thing by having a Joint Select Committee on the matter to solicit a wide range of views rather than simply trying to push its version of the legislation into law.

The reality is that this must be legislation with a long arm since the tentacles of corruption cut across both public and private life.

One of the weaknesses of the effort to push the bill is that there is an absence of certain fundamental associated legislation.

There must be whistle-blower protection as well as freedom of information legislation to give real teeth to the lofty objectives.

Any good police investigator will point out that being able to get “those leads” from people is perhaps the most crucial matter in successfully pursuing any investigation. But people will not come forward or willingly give information if they are not guaranteed protection.

Whistle-blowers have played critical roles in the unearthing of dirty deeds in some of the biggest scandals across the world –  Watergate, Enron, Arthur Andersen, JPMorgan Chase, British Petroleum and Bank of America.

Two years ago, a courageous whistle-blower, “John Doe”, helped guide investigative journalists to the Panama Papers, which exposed corrupt dealing from the dubious Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Without that whistle-blower the world would never have known about those shady business transactions.

People in Barbados have information about wrongdoing, but they are fearful for whatever reasons to come forward.

We in journalism know very well about the fear people have even when the information is harmless.

This is why the other piece of legislation, the Freedom of Information Bill, needs to be discussed in tandem with the Integrity on Public Life Bill.

Public authorities must be obliged to make information available about their activities – except in the case of national security matters – within a certain time frame and the public should have a right to request such information, whether for academic research, by journalists or even people who may have been aggrieved by certain administrative decisions.

Barbadians need to get involved in this Joint Select Committee on the Integrity in Public Life Bill 2018. The public must not sit on the fence with this one. (ES)