Fighting against transparency

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Recently, Members of Parliament (MPs) from both sides of the aisle mounted staunch opposition to a new regulation which would require anyone with beneficial interest in, control of, or being on the board of directors of a company to declare such interest to the regulatory authorities.
Beyond the need for this type of information to comply with various international requirements, we require these declarations to ensure that there is transparency in our government.  We need to ensure that there are no conflicts of interests by politicians and the companies in which they hold interests.
Beside this particular regulation, there were several amendments to various Acts being proposed in the Law Miscellaneous (Amendment) Bill 2017.  The Attorney General, Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, explained that the amendments were to “shore up gaps in the [Anti-money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism] legislation on the books, and the action was being taken ahead of the June visit of a team from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
As logical and practical that the changes may be, they generated serious debate – none more than the previously described regulation regarding the declaration of beneficial interests.  St John’s Rural East MP, Sir Lester Bird; St John’s Rural West MP, Baldwin Spencer; St George MP, Dean Jonas and All Saints East & St Luke’s MP, Joanne Massiah, all opposed the Bill.  In his presentation, Sir Lester questioned, “Is it because we are intimidated by the different entities overseas?” while declaring that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) should take a position on regulations being imposed by world powers like the United States (US).
He emphasized his point by stating, “They have not implemented such laws. Therefore, we’re dealing on the basis that might is right. They try to impose them upon us willy-nilly. I do not accept that we have to go that route.”  We understand the argument that Sir Lester is making but regardless of whether hypocritical, bullying nations demand the changes, we believe that the changes do well for transparency and strengthen our democracy.
It is unacceptable that our politicians, who are responsible for spending money and creating policy, could perform those duties without some checks as to whether any conflicts of interests exist.    And while we cannot comment on whether or not other countries have implemented similar laws and regulations, that really should be a moot point.  Our concern is Antigua & Barbuda and the levels of transparency and accountability that exist here.
Former PM, Baldwin Spencer, and Former PM Sir Lester Bird, seemed to be singing from the same hymn sheet, with Spencer suggesting that “a sub-regional approach to begin with is the way to go”, adding, “If we are satisfied that some of these things may work out to be to our disadvantage then it seems to me that we cannot just capitulate every time they come saying ‘you have to do this’.”  Again, we understand the argument and certainly support the stance that we should not be puppets to the whims of other nations, especially when they take a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ stance, but we fail to see the disadvantage in this regulation.
We are the first to criticize any unfair and ridiculous “regulations being imposed by world powers like the United States (US)” but we do not view a law or a regulation improving the level of transparency in our bit of paradise to fail the litmus test of being beneficial to the public and our system of governance.
How many times have we shouted into the wind for increased transparency from our politicians?  How many times have the rumors of conflicts of interests circulated throughout our communities?   People have long questioned, ‘Who or what company get what, for how much, because so-and-so is an owner or part owner?’  Nepotism, and family ties have always clouded decisions and diminished public trust while causing the public to suck their teeth in disgust.  So why fight this tiny bit of increased transparency? (We welcome arguments other than those that put forth a ‘twisted arm’ approach.)
Our mantra for government is ‘accountability and transparency’ and we see the amendments, though flawed, to be a step closer to what we desire for our nation.  Certainly, we can bicker about the details but we should not abandon the amendments by acquiescing to the argument that we are being bullied into something that is not in our best interest.  Since when is transparency not in our best interest?

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