An unmistaken conflict of interest
The Attorney General (AG)’s attempt to defend Mr. Brassington is inappropriate and untenable. Mr. Brassington clearly placed himself in an unmistaken conflict of interest situation when he purportedly acted for his brother in procuring and disposing of shares. Mr. Brassington’s contention that he was advised that there was no conflict of interest in his dealings is simply unacceptable, since a senior official in the position of Mr. Brassington ought to know that he was placing himself in a conflict position.
Any senior official, be it in the public sector or private sector, who fails to recognise such clear conflict of interest, does not deserve to hold that office. Assuming for a moment that there was no conflict of interest, the appearance of a conflict or the potential for a conflict is more than enough to have precluded Mr. Brassington from dealing with and acting on behalf of his brother. The perception of bias and the perception of a conflict is just as important as a real and apparent conflict or bias.
The reported details of the conflict of interest issue is more than enough for the police, the auditor general and the respective parliamentary committee to commence separate independent investigations.
If and when either the police and/or the auditor general announce their decision to commence an investigation, the President should publicly support such independent investigation and refrain from commenting further until the results of the investigations are disclosed. The President should also encourage his Ministers to do the same. If this happens, the President will no doubt see his popularity increase, as he will be sending a clear message that actual and perceived corruption will not be tolerated. The President would also be sending a clear message that he supports the independence of the police and the auditor general and he would not interfere with their independence if they decide to investigate.
It is also imperative for the government to agree for either the Public Accounts Committee or the Finance Committee, if there is one, to conduct its own hearings on NICIL where Dr. Ashni Singh, in his capacity as Finance Minister and Chair of the NICIL Board, may be called to explain the circumstances surrounding the NICIL affair. The AG may also have to appear and explain the legal basis for his purported advice to Mr. Brassington that no conflict of interest exists. It may yet turn out that no such advice was rendered to Mr. Brassington.
In a functional democracy facing a similar situation, the government of the day would have requested an investigation, or formed a commission of inquiry to hold hearings, as well as allow the relevant parliamentary committee to conduct its own hearings. The Guyanese people deserve no less.
Oudit N. Rai