MINISTER of Justice Senator Mark Golding has confirmed that the Corruption Prevention Commission (CPC) has been named the designated authority to carry out the statutory functions of the Protected Disclosures (or Whistleblower) Act.
Senator Golding made the confirmation in the Senate Friday as he responded to questions tabled by Opposition member Senator Kamina Johnson Smith.
He said that the necessary ministerial orders to bring the Act into effect, and to make the CPC the designated authority were signed on August 3, 2012 and gazetted four days later.
He explained that the decision to name an existing agency as the designated authority was influenced by the fact that the majority of members of the joint select committee which studied the bill in 2011 felt that there was no need for a new body, and therefore an existing body should be designated as such.
"I agreed with that view, particularly given the paramount need for the efficient use of public resources," the minister said.
He noted that the Office of the Public Defender and the Integrity Commission were also considered, and advice sought from the Legal Services Unit of the ministry and the Legal Reform Department.
He said that the Cabinet Secretary was consulted and confirmed support for the CPC on the grounds that "there appeared to be a greater functional relationship between the functions of the designated authority under the Act and those of the CPC, than in the case of the other entities".
The Ministry of Finance also confirmed for the CPC, and the Attorney General's Department offered no legal objection.
Golding told the Senate that he was surprised to find that the Act, which had been signed by the Governor General from March 2011, had not yet been brought into effect up to when he assumed office, requiring him to take the necessary steps and inform the Cabinet of his decision last July.
However, he explained that the CPC is not currently equipped to take on the added assignment, as it does not have in place adequate staff. The CPC has since met with the Cabinet Office and the ministry to discuss adjustments to its organisational structure so that it can perform its new functions.
He disclosed that the Ministry of Finance and the Cabinet last week confirmed approval for the strengthening of the organisational structure of the CPC, to enable it to proceed with operationalising its role under the Act, subject to available budgetary support.
He said that in terms of the procedural guidelines regarding the making, receiving and investigation of disclosures under the Act on an ongoing basis, the CPC has advised that this will depend on regulations being promulgated pursuant to section 25 of the Act.
"I have had further discussions with the commission and urged them to commence work on developing the procedural guidelines without waiting or the regulations," he said, pointing out that in the meantime, the ministry is willing to assist the CPC in developing the guidelines, including the supporting regulations, if necessary.
"I am not able to project a date for the completion of this exercise, because of competing priorities being attended to by the available human resources within the commission and the ministry," he admitted.
"The commission has also advised that until the changes to its organisational structure have been operationalised to enable it to perform its statutory role under the Act, it does not have the machinery to undertake public awareness programmes at the national level with respect to the Act, but will be seeking to increase public awareness at the local level," the minister said.