Reviewed Anti-Corruption Bill toothless against illicit gains

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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.

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