Penn had countered those suggestions concerning his untimely declarations to the Registrar of Interests while giving evidence before the Commission of Inquiry (COI) yesterday, June 17.
The Register of Interests is a record kept of the financial interests of HOA members who are required to make declarations into it annually. However, Penn has been filing his declarations every four years.
The COI was informed that he submitted four declarations in February 2017 that were due since 2013, and again, later submitted another four declarations in February 2021 for the period 2017-2020.
Questioned by COI attorney, Bilal Rawat, as to whether one can conclude that his level of compliance demonstrates a lack of regard for his statutory obligation, Penn disagreed.
“I won’t accept that. I was delinquent, I have admitted to my delinquency. I have made steps to correct my delinquency going forward and I’m going to continue on that path,” Penn responded.
The Opposition Leader was among a parade of legislators revealed, over the past week, to have been delinquent in their submissions of declarations to the Registrar. However, Penn is recorded as one of the worst offenders.
Penn’s own submissions drew particular scrutiny from the COI given the pattern in which they were submitted and the fact that he was appointed to a committee that has oversight over the Register of Interests.
Penn was first appointed to the Standing Select Committee — also referred to as the Register of Interests Committee — in 2016 and again in 2019 after the most recent general elections. One purpose of committee is to consider reports made by the Registrar.
“You allowed yourself to be nominated to a committee in the Third House in 2016 when you were non-compliant with your own obligations. You allowed yourself to be nominated to a committee in this House (2019), when again you were still non-compliant with your obligations. Did you not anticipate or see that there could be a conflict of interest for you in allowing your name to be put forward?” Rawat asked Penn.
In response, the Opposition leader simply said, “possibly”. And after being pressed for an elaboration he added, “I have no reason”.
According to the Opposition legislator, the committee only met once in the Third House of Assembly in 2016 and has never met since being established again in 2019.
It was further put to Penn that it was ‘beneficial’ to delinquent HOA members if the oversight committee did not meet or take action against persons who declined to declare their interests on time or at all. Again, Penn refuted this notion.
Instead, the Opposition Leader said he never had any nefarious intentions in making his submissions to the Registrar late.
He further informed the COI that he never called for any meetings in the current HOA but can recall discussions being had about the committee’s single meeting held in the previous HOA.
Penn, who earlier said he had no personal objections to public officers’ interests being made public, did not disclose upon his first appointment to the oversight committee that he had not filed declarations for four years.
After some seeming reluctance, the legislator ultimately acknowledged that the system was not working effectively, given the fact that there were no sanctions for him after his repeated delinquency.