Magistrate Tiyani Behanzin Speaks Out

SON OF FORMER  DOMINICA PRIME MINISTER THE LATE  ROSIE DOUGLAS PROPOSES  MAJOR REFORM AS LASTING LEGACY TO HIS  FATHER

“There is almost no trace of Rosie and it is very sad,” laments son of
late Rosie Douglas
Tiyani Behanzin, a British-trained barrister and sitting magistrate in
Dominica is overwhelmed with grief that there is almost no trace of his
father, no evidence that Rosie Douglas, the man who spent a lifetime working for
the advancement of black people worldwide ever lived. “When we look at
his legacy, apart from him being almost completely erased, it is as if he
never really existed in a sense.. I think there are those of us who will
peddle his name to raise resources, peddle his name to find new friends but the
principles that he gave which could impact on the way we live now, most of
which are forgotten and I think that’s sad.” Behanzin, a son the late Rosie Douglas is proposing sweeping reforms to
Dominica’s political system that would be a permanent and lasting legacy to
the memory of his father, former Prime Minister, Rosie Douglas, who died
ten years ago in office on October 1st 2000.

On Friday, October 15th, the actual birth date of Rosie Douglas, Tiyani
Behanzin delivered a lecture on the topic: New Perspectives on the legacy of
Rosie Douglas at the University of the West Indies School of Continuing
Studies in Roseau.

Behanzin identified three areas for reform which his father placed high on
his agenda of priorities in his short tenure as Prime Minister of
Dominica: corruption and good governance, campaign financing and the greater
involvement of overseas-based Dominicans in the country’s development.
On the issue of corruption and good governance, Behanzin spoke about the
failures of just about every country of African descent.

“Just about every single territory that we hold now, those of African
descent, we have made a complete mess of the issue of governance. Because it is
not a meritocracy we are running. We are running a ‘favouritism’, we are
running ‘a connection’, we are running a ‘who you know’ society and that
is detrimental to our survival on this small little rock,” Behanzin said.
Focusing on Dominica, the attorney quoted from an address delivered by the
former Dominica Prime Minister, Hon. Rosie Douglas on the swearing- in of
the Cabinet of the Government of Dominica on February 7th 2000, in which he
spoke about the negative impact of corruption in government.

“Secondly, I must speak to the issues of good governance and the
elimination of corruption in the economic management of the island. We must evolve a
political culture that is intolerant to corruption. Perceptions of high
levels of corruption act as a strong disincentive to genuine foreign
investors and domestic business. But above all, it increases cynicism about
politics and public policy and brings government into disrepute.”
Behanzin pointed out that the Integrity in Public Office Act of 2003, like
some laws in Dominica is “archaic” and the Act in its present form “has
very little teeth or if it does, it has milk teeth”.

“ It seems to me the Integrity in Public Office Act should be such a
profound statement of statehood that we should be prepared, that just reading
it alone would frighten the daylights out of anybody considering,
considering even to help themselves to any state assets or any benefit or
derive from connections that is unjust because it is against our very survival.”

The sitting Magistrate quoted sections of the Act that he believes are not
tough enough to deter persons in public life from stealing state assets.
He quoted Section 43 of the Integrity in Public Office Act.
“Any person who commits an offence under this Part is liable (a) on
conviction on indictment to a fine of twenty-five thousand dollars or to
imprisonment for a term of ten years or to both such fine and imprisonment and (b)
on summary conviction, to a fine of five thousand dollars or to
imprisonment for a term of two years or both such fine and imprisonment.”
He pointed out that the penalties imposed on persons convicted of drug
offences under the Drugs(Prevention of Misuse)(Amendment) Act 1993 are far
stiffer than the penalties imposed on those public officials who breach
provisions of the 2003 Integrity in Public Office Act.
The son of the former Dominican leader lamented the fact that “for drugs
you can pay millions, thousands of dollars, but for stealing state assets
you pay $5000”.

Section 43 (b) of the Integrity in Public Office Act states that a person
who commits an offence is liable on summary conviction to a fine of five
thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term of two years or to both
such fine and imprisonment.

The Dominican magistrate described as “foolishness” Section 47(1) of the
Integrity in Public Office Act on the possession of unaccounted property.
“ A person in public life who is found to be in possession of property
or pecuniary resource disproportionate to his legitimate sources of income
commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction, to a fine of two
thousand dollars and imprisonment for a term of two years and to forfeiture of
the assets so found.”

As a lasting legacy to his father, Behanzin proposes much longer jail
terms, including mandatory sentences of up to twenty (20) years or life, larger
fines and forfeiture of assets so found for public officials who breach
the Integrity in Public Office Act.

“If we want to protect the assets of the state, and make it unpalatable
for those who have itchy fingers, then let’s give the Act some teeth… 20
years mandatory sentence. So if you steal money from this poor state, you take
your twenty years.”

The magistrate also proposed as a lasting legacy to his father, the
establishment by the Integrity Commission of a Truth Commission to be headed by
the Bishop of Roseau. The commission would be a go between to flush out
those who have information on other people who may be in public life. It would
meet once a year and would offer immunity to those giving information on
the “big cats”.

He added that in the “spirit of what Rosie would have wanted “although
you may not be in public life, if somebody in private life allows you to
hide assets they have derived and stolen a benefit from the public, then your
assets should become liable for seizure”.

As a lasting legacy to his father, Behanzin also proposed major reform
in the way political parties are funded at election time. The Dominica
Labour Party 2005 General Election campaign was arguably the most expensive in
the history of electoral politics in Dominica. The campaign which lasted
more than two months featured massive rallies with live foreign and local
bands and artistes and powerful music systems, billboards, thousands of
T-shirts and other party paraphernalia as well as the buying out of large
segments of air time on radio and huge advertisements in the newspapers. The
December 18th 2009 election campaign was just as extravagant except that
this time the main opposition United Workers Party(UWP) did not have the money
to compete with the ruling Dominica Labour Party, which reportedly spent
in the region EC$22 million or EC$5 million pounds on the their campaign.
Behanzin argued that a small fledgling democracy like Dominica cannot
afford the huge sums that are being expended during election campaigns and
suggested a general debate in the society about the state funding political
parties and an increase in the deposit to be paid by all candidates.
Behanzin’s proposals for reform on the way political parties are funded
has its genesis in an address by the late Rosie Douglas on February 7th
2000 days after he had been sworn in as Prime Minister.

“It appears that we need robust control over election spending to ensure
that all political parties are properly accountable to the people of
Dominica, to prevent conflict of interest and the exercise of interest and
exercise of improper influence. We need to ensure that politics in this country
does not become a matter of who can spend the most. This is wrong. This is
very wrong.”

Behanzin stressed that reform on the way political parties are funded “
would be a good fitting legacy for Rosie Douglas, because it means that the
people will decide without any outside influence or the power or weight of
cash.”

The third major area of reform cited by Behanzin is the right of
Dominicans based overseas to vote at election time in Dominica. Presently any
Dominican registered to vote, whose name is on the voters’ list has the right to
vote in Dominica. At the last election, the ruling Dominica Labour Party
brought in hundreds of persons, some say thousands by plane and boat and
may have in the opinion of many distorted the overall result and given the
ruling DLP an unfair advantage over the cash-strapped UWP. The result was
18-3 in favour of the D.L.P the party’s best result since 1966.

Under a proposal suggested by Behanzin, the number of constituencies would
be reduced from 21 now to as low as 15 seats, with two virtual seats for
Dominicans resident overseas. Behanzin said that it is ‘dangerous’ for
Dominicans living overseas to return home and vote in constituencies they are
registered as this practice could affect the outcome of the election
result. He argued his proposal for two virtual seats just for overseas based
Dominicans would be feasible and fairer than the present arrangements.
Economic citizens who don’t live in the country ought not to have the
right to vote under proposals outlined by Behanzin. That class of people must
be living in Dominica for five years in order to be able to vote in
elections in Dominica.

The creation of a different state where good governance, honesty and
integrity in government are embedded in our political system, where the state
funds political parties, thereby eliminating outside interference and the
creation of a fair and equitable system to allow for Dominicans resident
overseas to vote in elections, would be a permanent and lasting legacy to
the memory of his father, the statesman, Hon. Rosie Douglas, Tiyani
Behanzin concluded.
22/10/10

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