BLC labels this a regrettable decision & serious omission
BY CAROL-ANNE SULEGA
PROVISIONS against illicit gains have been removed from the Anti-Corruption Bill 2016, and this has been described by the Bills and Legislations Committee (BLC) as a regrettable and serious omission.
This puts in question PM Manasseh Sogavare’s words that he withdrew the Bill to have it strengthened with recommendations to remove loopholes.
He had promised to bring back a robust and high-integrity Anti-Corruption Bill in the next Parliament sitting – only that it would be toothless against cases of illicit gains.
This issue of unjust enrichment (or illicit wealth) was raised by the Law Reform Commission (LRC) during the hearings.
According to the LRC, unjust enrichment can occur when someone cannot justify, based on their means of income, how they own things that are beyond their income.
It places the burden of proof on an accused to prove that their level of income is sufficient to procure assets they own.
The LRC recommended its inclusion to the sponsoring ministry, but the recommendation was rejected.
According to the LHC there has been a study carried out by the United Nations and World Bank in 2012, which 44 countries have adopted that particular provision to enhance the legal framework they have to fight corruption and they found it to be a very effective tool.
The LRC advocated that it is good for Solomon Islands to consider adopting and having such provision in our legislation.
This, the Committee added, would show our people how serious we are about fighting corruption.
In response, officials from the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (OPMC) and supported by some witnesses say that such provisions takes away the principle of presumption of innocence.
As a legal principle, any person accused of a crime is always presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty by a court of law.
Including such provisions in the Bill may erode this principle as there are already related offences in the Penal Code and other legislations that can take care of the issue.
“On balance, however, and in light of the levels of corruption in our public sector, unjust enrichment provisions are justifiable and do not pose a threat to the principle of presumption of innocence.
“The Committee finds the exclusion of provisions against illicit/unjust enrichment as a regrettable and serious omission. Such provisions offer the most effective tool in the fight against corruption.
“The Committee recommends that the bill be amended to include provisions against illicit/unjust enrichment,” the report on the Anticorruption stated.
During discussions Committee members concurred with the submission by the LRC that the Bill should take a zero tolerance approach against all forms of corrupt practice that is intruding into various levels of our society.