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New anti-corruption model law will help to strengthen good governance - law officers

25 October 2012
The Commonwealth draft model covers code of conduct, guidelines on conflict of interest and declarations of interest, and mechanisms to investigate breaches

Senior law officers who have been reviewing a new anti-corruption model law believe it will help strengthen integrity in public life and good governance in their countries.

The draft model Integrity in Public Life Act - developed by the Commonwealth - will provide small Commonwealth jurisdictions that want to incorporate anti-corruption laws into their domestic laws with options that can be adapted based on their needs.

Solicitor-General of Mauritius Dheerendra Dabee, one of the participants at a seminar reviewing the draft Act from 22 to 23 October 2012 at the Commonwealth’s headquarters in London, said: “Countries with a blank sheet where anti-corruption laws are concerned can draw inspiration from it while countries with their sheets partially filled can use it to plug holes and beef up existing procedures and legislation dealing with ethical behaviour.”

Annah Mphetlhe, Senior Assistant Director - Legal Services in the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime in Botswana - noted that some countries have anti-corruption laws but that they were fragmented.

She said although some structures were already in place, the anti-corruption model law would help bring the fragments together.

“Sometimes when you sit in your own country you know where you want to go but you need something to help you get there. What this does is to provide a framework for jurisdictions that might not have the capacity to come up with their own. They can just lift it from the model law,” Ms Mphetlhe added.

The Act, which is in its final stages of preparation, is part of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s programme of work to support its member countries to promote and strengthen the rule of law and good governance.

It includes a code of conduct and guidelines on conflict of interest, requiring public officials to abide by a code of conduct and make declarations of interest. It also establishes an Integrity Commission to investigate breaches of the code.

Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba, who officially opened the seminar, noted that good governance is one of the Commonwealth’s core values.

She said: “Public officials – whether they are elected or non-elected, whether they are ministers or junior civil servants – are servants of the public who through their taxes, pay officials’ salaries.

“Therefore citizens are entitled to expect their public officials – including their leaders – to abide by the highest standards of integrity.”

Ms Masire-Mwamba said the model law forms part of broader the Secretariat efforts to assist member countries to ratify the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

Mark Guthrie, Legal Adviser at the Secretariat, said the process of developing the Integrity in Public Life Act has been a consultative one involving small jurisdictions in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and the Pacific.

He explained: “The model law is intended to be a helpful and logical framework for holding integrity in public life. However, we don’t expect any jurisdiction to enact the model law without first examining it and where necessary amending it in order to ensure that it reflects the needs and circumstances of that jurisdiction.”

Participants who attended the seminar included senior representatives of Attorneys-General and anti-corruption offices from Botswana, Maldives, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, Swaziland and Guernsey.

The seminar was the last in a series on the Integrity in Public Life Act before the final draft of the Act is presented to law ministers of small Commonwealth jurisdictions at their meeting in September 2013.

Mr Dabee said: “This seminar has given us food for thought so we don’t have to await the process to be completed to feel the benefits. A number of things get inculcated into the participants at the seminar which will percolate down to those in our offices. This is the benefit we have drawn from our participation.”