Published 31st January 2020, 3:40pm
Mr. Speaker, I rise to announce that at its next meeting the Cabinet intends to make a Commencement Order taking the Standards in Public Life Law into effect on 1 March this year.
It has been a long and involved process and thus I believe I should provide some context to the House for the reasons for delay, This has been such a long and arduous journey, but we are now almost there.
In May of 2016, I wrote to persons appointed to serve on Statutory Authority and Government Company Boards and Commissions about proposed amendments to the Standards in Public Life Law. The reason for the amendments at the time was that after passing the initial Standard in Public Life Law, I and virtually every Government Minister at the time received phone calls and messages from many members of Statutory Authority and Government Company boards and committees stating their concerns with the Law and indeed we had real threats of resignations from members of the public who were giving their time to serve on public boards and committees. And so the law was not brought into effect until a review could be done.
The Law was amended in June 2016 to address the identified concerns. However, it was quickly recognised that there were still ongoing concerns by the public, despite the amendments done in 2016.
Those concerns presented the Government at the time with a dilemma; the same dilemma we had in 2014 Ė should we bring into force the law as amended and still risk many resignations from key Government SAGCís boards, committees, and commissions, or should we set it aside until we had an opportunity to have another look. We chose the latter approach.
In the run-up to the 2017 General Elections - and indeed even after, the elections because of the demands on Governmentís time - the amended law was not reviewed again, as intended. The truth is Mr. Speaker that time just did not allow. The need was to again review the law and proposed regulations and determine where we could draw a better balance; a balance that allowed the public, especially those with particular expertise, to be willing to serve the country without feeling that their personal affairs were being unduly intruded upon whilst at the same time ensuring that the law performed as intended. We also understood that there may be areas where the law was being misunderstood and therefore there was a need for further clarification with SAGC board, committee and commission members. The starting point though was for the Government to again formally consult with boards, committee and commission members to understand what, if any, concerns still existed and how we could resolve the concerns in an even-handed way.
So in May last year, by way of a formal letter, I wrote and asked the Chairperson of all Statutory Boards and Government Companies to kindly poll their board members to understand what concerns they had with the law as amended. I asked that this be completed expeditiously, and that they should provide a report back by the end of June detailing any concerns.
Responses were received, including requests for clarity on various parts of the law. Given the number of questions from board members, the reporting deadline was extended to ensure that we got the things right this time.
In the latter quarter of 2019, sufficient feedback was received for an analysis to be done by the Attorney Generalís Chambers as well as the Commission Secretariat. It was determined that some additional changes were still required, but these could be done via the proposed regulations.
It is our intention, therefore, that at the next meeting of Cabinet that a Commencement Order will be issued to bring the law into force as of 1 March, 2020. The Regulations will follow shortly.
I will say again that what is important Mr. Speaker is that on this occasion we get it right, so we do not have the concern again of mass departures from important government boards. We will also include a public education campaign as part of the roll-out of the law.
Mr. Speaker, I also wish to point out that despite what some protagonists and naysayers in some parts of the media like to infer, the initial delay in bringing the law into effect had nothing to do with elected members not wanting to make our interests known. We in this House are required by law to provide, and update, annually the register prescribed by the Register of Interest Law at the Legislative Assembly.
Each year as the update period draws near almost every media member will typically report on the changes to the Register of Interests as well as on which Member, if any, is late in providing an update. That is the scrutiny that is placed on members of this Honourable House and we have no issue with that.
Also, Mr. Speaker, there are many senior civil servants, including Chief Officers, Heads of Departments, and anyone dealing with financial transactions who are also required by law to file their interests annually and these are audited by the Auditor Generalís Office, also annually.
That said Mr. Speaker I do regret that we have been unable to move this review along at a faster pace, but it is not that Government has been sitting on our hands. We have been handling many urgent matters, including as we were reminded yesterday, issues to do with protecting our jurisdiction from blacklisting by the EU. None-the-less I am pleased that we are now there and I assure this Honourable House that the Standards in Public Life Law and Regulations will be in place soon.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.