Kudos to the House of Assembly for making steady progress in recent weeks on a raft of legislation designed to improve governance in the territory.
We hope to see all of the related bills passed very soon — and fully implemented shortly thereafter.
The current administration’s ability to move forward with the proposed reforms will be a crucial test of its 2019 campaign promises to improve accountability and transparency in government.
On May 13, the HOA debated the Contractor General Act, 2021, which would establish a watchdog office overseeing government contracts. Given the lack of transparency and egregious politicisation of public projects in the past, this office is badly needed — provided that it has teeth and is staffed by an independent thinker.
On May 27, members are scheduled to resume with discussions on that bill — which we hope they will pass the same day — before taking up the Whistleblowers Act, 2021, another long-promised law that would help improve governance by protecting public officers and others who report wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, public consultations are under way on the proposed Integrity in Public Life Act, 2021, which is also before the HOA. If passed, the law would create an Integrity Commission to serve as another watchdog against unethical behaviour. It would also create a code of conduct that would apply to every public officer in the territory, as well as elected officials.
All of this legislation is much needed, and each of these bills would be another feather in the current government’s cap.
But passing the bills in the HOA is not enough. Timely implementation is just as important.
To understand this much, one need only consider the Register of Interests Act, 2006, which so far has been a major disappointment. First, the act was neutered in the HOA to prevent the public from viewing the register of legislators’ interests, which should be open to anyone. And even then, the law still was breached for many years — perhaps up until today.
The current administration must turn over a new leaf. The results of past governance failures can be seen across the territory in pork-barrel projects and shoddy workmanship, and they often feature prominently in very real tales of favouritism, victimisation, injustice and other issues.
All of the above-mentioned laws would help improve governance while putting the territory in a better position to work toward greater self-determination and autonomy. As the Commission of Inquiry proceeds, they also would chip away at any justification the United Kingdom might put forward for suspending the territory’s Constitution as it did in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The current government has done well to bring the laws this far. We hope leaders will add others to the list, including freedom-of-information legislation; a law establishing a Human Rights Commission; and an amendment to enable unexplained wealth orders.
Then they must get all the legislation across the finish line and begin the hard work of implementation.