By Alexis R. Milan Staff ReporterFormer
Financial Intelligence Unit Director, Marilyn Williams, has been chosen to be the new Chair of the Integrity Commission.
According to a Cabinet press release issued this week, Williams will be formally assigned the role at next month’s sitting of the Senate.
Williams spoke to The Reporter on Wednesday and said that as in everything she does, she will carry out this task to the best of her ability. “I look forward to establishing a properly functioning Integrity Commission as Chairperson,” said Williams.
She stated that she was contacted by the Prime Minister and offered the position, which she accepted.
Vision Inspired by the People (VIP) Public Relations Officer, Robert Lopez, told Reporter that, while the VIP welcomes the new appointment, his party is of the opinion that it is long overdue and the Commission has plenty of work to do. According to Lopez, the VIP will be watching the Commission closely. Lopez also stated that he doesn’t believe the PM should be congratulated on performing such an important task that he has dragged his foot on completing over the past few years.
Lopez stated that the VIP is now demanding that Integrity Commission, soon to be appointed, request financial disclosures from all public officials since 2009, including senators, and under the Belize Prevention of Corruption Act 2007, penalize those who have not complied with the Act.
The VIP maintains the position that the Integrity Commission, along with other oversight bodies, including the Offices of the Auditor General and the Contractor General, should be placed under a newly created State Department headed by the Governor General.
Last week, the VIP also issued a release requesting the government to increase the budget for the Integrity Commission, so it could properly conduct its duties.
The Integrity Commission exists for the purpose of having public officials, including members of Cabinet and National Assembly, as well as municipal representatives, file financial disclosures. The disclosures filed by public officials must detail their salary, fees, wages, profits, rent, interest, contracts awarded by government or the private sector, leases or grants, and business interests. Declarations of finances must be submitted for the public official, their spouse, their children and other immediate family or associates.
The commission is stated to have seven members including the chairperson. According to the act, the Governor General selects the members for the Commission based on the advice of the Prime Minister.
The act requires public officials to make disclosures for the year before they entered public office, the years that they occupy it, and the year after they demit office. All public officials are allowed 90 days after assuming a public office to make their first disclosure.
Where a person in public life fails to file a declaration, the Commission is required to publish this information in The Gazette and send a report to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
According to section 19 of the Act, a person who fails to file a declaration to the Commission is liable on summary conviction, which would come from the Magistrate Court, to pay a fine not less than $3,000 plus an additional $100 for every day that the disclosure remains outstanding. On a second or subsequent offence the fine cannot be less than $5,000 or to imprisonment for one year or both.
Part four of the Act details the offences for acts of corruption. According to the Act, a person commits an act of corruption if that public official obtains any illicit benefit for himself through the performance of his public functions. The Act also details other specific instances that are considered to be acts of corruption.
According to the act, any person who, by himself or in conjunction with any other person, engages in an act of corruption and is a first-time offender on summary conviction is liable for a fine not less than $10,000 and in the case of a second or subsequent offence, to a fine not less than $20,000 or to imprisonment for a term not more than two years or both.
In the case that a public official is convicted on indictment, at the Supreme Court level, on a first offence the penalty would be a fine no less than $25,000 or to a prison sentence not more than two years or both. A second or subsequent offence would result in a penalty of a fine not less than $50,000 or to a prison sentence not more than three years or both.