“I urge the people of Guyana to look at this as a test case… If the Leader of the Opposition’s position is to urge people to break the law when the law is to ensure financial probity, what moral authority does he have to ever speak about corruption?”
President Bharrat Jagdeo says he will extend the two-week ultimatum that he had issued to Members of Parliament to declare their incomes and assets to the Integrity Commission or face the courts.
According to the President, he has observed the recent politicking that has been taking place as a result of his declaration, and has posited that he does not want anyone to have any excuses. He has consequently ordered Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, to ensure that the commission is fully resuscitated, hence the extension.
“I suspect that some members may have some things to hide,” said Jagdeo, while pointing out that during a recent forum one person had suggested that she did not want the nation to know what was the income or assets of her husband.
The President, however, was adamant that the declaration of incomes and assets was mandatory under the Integrity Commission Act of 1997. “One would think that my comment would be a catalyst for the defaulters to comply with the law…Unfortunately, this has been used as a political football.”
According to the President, the law was passed with a view to ensuring that there was no corruption in public life.
He noted that he has heard statements that the body (Integrity Commission) is unconstitutional in that it was nor properly constituted, and has responded by saying that, despite the concerns of legality or problems with Commissioners, there was a mechanism in place, namely the Secretary of the Integrity Commission, and an obligation to the law.
He also called for civil society and the donor communities to speak out on the issue, given that in many occasion these bodies have complained about transparency.
Jagdeo was also adamant. “I urge the people of Guyana to look at this as a test case…If the Leader of the Opposition’s position is to urge people to break the law when the law is to ensure financial probity, what moral authority does he have to ever speak about corruption?”
As it relates to the fact that several persons have been allowed to default over the years, with no action from the Integrity Commission, Jagdeo said that the commissioners may have been intimidated by the so called, “big boys.”
He added, however, that the public should not seek to cast the blame on the commission, given that the defaulters were legislators and as such should have been upholding the law.
As it relates to the hesitancy in accepting the resignation of Chairman of the Integrity Commission, Bishop Randolph George, President Jagdeo said that he suspected that Bishop George may have been bullied into that position.
The other members are Secretary of the Guyana Council of Churches, Nigel Hazel, and President of the Central Islamic Association, Fazeel Ferouz.
According to the relevant legislation, “Where a person who is required to do so fails to file a declaration in accordance with this Act, or to furnish particulars under Section 18, the Commission or the President, as the case may be, shall publish the fact in the Gazette and in a daily newspaper.”
Under this piece of legislation, there is a specific list of office holders who are required to declare assets to the commission, and the commissioners declare their assets to the President.
According to the Act, the penalty for failing to comply is: “a fine of $25,000 and to imprisonment for a term of not less than six months nor more than one year; and where the offence involves the non-disclosure by the declarant of property which should have been disclosed in the declaration, the magistrate convicting the person shall order the person to make full disclosure of the property within a given time; and on failure to comply with the order of the magistrate within the given time, the said offence shall be deemed to be a continuing offence and the person shall be liable to a further fine of ten thousand dollars for each day on which the offence continues.”
Members of Parliament and other senior officials who are required by law to declare their assets to the Integrity Commission now have an unclear deadline to declare their incomes and assets or face the courts.
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