Parliamentarians, public sector employees alarmed at Integrity Commission's new declaration formWednesday, October 20, 2021
BY ALPHEA SUMNER
Parliamentarians say they and other public sector employees are alarmed at the intrusiveness of the new voluntary declaration of assets form being implemented by the Integrity Commission, and that the commission needs to justify the additional requirement.
A notice of motion for amendments to the declaratory form was issued to Parliament March 20.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck said he found the form “repugnant” and questioned its necessity as people have already made their statutory declarations.
“They [parliamentarians] find that the new form that you have proposed needs to be justified. They're not just going to agree to it in this Parliament,” he stated at a recent meeting of the oversight committee for the Integrity Commission.
Chuck said a meeting had to be held with the commission to allow it to justify the form.
“Parliamentarians were totally alarmed because in that new declaration it is not only asking for information which they find repugnant, but they also feel that at the end they were being asked to sign a voluntary declaration form, which is literally saying anything that was incorrect, then you could be subject to criminal penalties. There are public servants who have brought to the attention of parliamentarians that they're being asked to sign [that] what they send in in their declaration is true; that everything which they have presented to the commission in good faith and have already signed, to say that it is true and correct,” Chuck outlined.
He also pointed to the short time frame which those who have been asked for the additional information are being given to provide it.
The minister said he was perplexed by the information being requested, such as children's taxpayer registration numbers (TRN).
“My children are 32 to 40,” Chuck said. “Suppose they refuse to give me their TRN? Am I going to be punished? Because, quite frankly, they could tell me I'm independent of you, Daddy, don't ask me for my TRN.”
Attorney general and colleague committee member Marlene Malahoo Forte said the proposed form had created some amount of angst, not just among parliamentarians, but also in the wider public service.
She said public sector employees who have received the letter proposing the new format say the commission, after receiving their declarations as required by law, if it needs more information, is able to make that request for further assessment.
“We have to be so careful that we don't invite suspicion as to motive in the discharge of our functions. They feel as if there is an attempt to say, 'Got you,' and it is causing some issue,” she said.
At the same time, she said parliamentarians have to be mindful that they do not appear to be shying away from scrutiny.
“We don't want a posturing to say, because we are among the category of persons who must submit, then we don't want to be scrutinised, because it would be inconsistent with the power given to the Parliament to pass law for peace, order and good government,” she said.
Pearnel Charges Jr argued that if the letter was not received by all public servants there would be reason for those who received it to ensure that they get necessary legal advice to ensure that they don't place themselves in a position that could amount to entrapment.
“If there is an issue — unless you're presumed to be someone who is seeking to circumvent the law — why not advise that there are some matters that are of concern — can you [public servant] address the specific issues?” he said.
According to the Integrity Commission's Director of Information and Complaints Craig Beresford, the form is being introduced because a large number of declaration forms are incorrect and have information gaps.
He said it was an opportunity for people to ensure that their declarations are accurate.
“We are giving persons an opportunity to go back and look. We have not looked to see if you have left off things; that's not the starting point. Over the years, we have been getting declarations where all we get is signatures, not even information,” he stressed. “The reason why we have now introduced that new form letter asking persons to revise your statutory declarations is because we are finding that a lot of them are inaccurate. We are not trying to entrap anyone. We are giving persons an opportunity to go back and look; we have not looked to see if you have left off things, that's not the starting point,” he told the committee.
Beresford said that, of all the people who have been issued a letter, only four have not submitted additional information after reviewing their declarations.