The late submission of the Register of Interests declaration by at least one first-time legislator has been linked to the absence of an orientation process upon taking office.
This was the sentiments shared by Junior Minister for Tourism Sharie de Castro when she appeared before the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Monday June 14.
The Register of Interests Act 2006, ultimately requires members of the House of Assembly to publicly declare their financial assets to avoid conflict of interest while executing their legislative or ministerial duties.
According to the Act, elected members are required to submit their declaration upon the date of taking office and on each anniversary of that said date. The Act also allows for a submission of the declaration within three months of the deadline date and states that submissions outside the three months are in breach of the act, which warrants a written report by the registrar and the possibility of facing other penalties.
During de Castro’s hearing, the COI’s attorney Bilal Rawat revealed that the junior minister after taking office on March 12, 2019, failed to submit her first Register of Interests declaration on that date. In fact, he stated the declaration was submitted nearly four months after the deadline, on July 10, 2019.
The attorney also noted that de Castro submitted her 2020 declaration after the deadline but said her 2021 declaration was submitted on time.
De Castro accept breach
When asked whether she accepted that she was in breach of the Act for her 2019 submission, de Castro admitted to the breach. But she explained that it was due to her inexperience as a new elected member, coupled with the absence of an official orientation to bring awareness of such requirements.
“I do and permit me to explain that as a newly elected member of the government it was a steep learning curve and without formal orientation to the position. Subsequently, through the notification from the Registrar it then reminded me [and] I subsequently did take due consideration to visit her office to be fully informed and briefed as to what is expected of me and on that date, I did fill out my declaration and submitted it,” she explained.
HOA responsible for orientation
Attorney Rawat then questioned the junior minister on whose responsibility it is to provide newly elected members with orientation.
She replied, “My assumption would be as a newly elected member that the House of Assembly would have in some form or fashion introduce workshops to members to familiarize them with the processes and structures and responsibilities therein and that was not the case. So I was as a new member, being newly accustomed to the role, basically adjusting to this new responsibility.”
Advocated for orientation in the BVI
De Castro also stated that she has been advocating for an orientation in the BVI for newly elected members ever since taking office.
“I have been making representations that there was a need for orientation and it was further cemented by my subsequent participation in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association programmes and seminars through the region and internationally. Subsequently I was also a guest speaker at two or more new member parliamentary proceedings for the Anguilla House of Assembly and the Grenada House of Assembly,” she stated.
“So that is why previously I referenced that it is customary that when a new House of Assembly is installed, it is practiced through the region that perhaps through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association or even potentially just through the House of Assembly of that specific land, that there are new member workshops, so that members could be apprised of their responsibility,” she added.
De Castro said her work did see results, as the territory welcomed its first workshop from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association for new members this week, after more than two years since taking office.