The controversy surrounding the Integrity Commission was regarded as “sheer hypocrisy” by Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy when he commented on the issue Monday last.
According to the Minister, who claims to have already filled out his Integrity Commission form – something he does on an annual basis, it is hypocritical for any member of parliament not to comply with the instruction which was given recently by President Bharrat Jagdeo.
Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon had disclosed that the Integrity Act of 1997 clearly provides the basis for the action that the president undertook to put in place and also provides for even more dire consequences such as publishing the names of defaulters and even having them charged and convicted.
Minister Ramsammy pointed out that while the President and other officials have been speaking on the matter on behalf of the government, he was speaking in his capacity as a Member of Parliament.
“I have filled out my forms every year and I don’t mind the scrutiny. I hear one argument being made about privacy but all of us that are in parliament, whether on the government or opposition side, are obligated to fill out these forms,” the Minister insisted.
“For me it is sheer hypocrisy for anyone to claim that because they think it is not properly constituted they will not support it.”
“Other arguments include that what they make in their jobs as long as it is not their parliament salaries, the rest is nobody’s business…As a public official everything you do in your life becomes the focus of the public…”
According to the Minister, when Members of Parliament and senior public officials take up their positions, they in essence agree to open themselves to public scrutiny even though it could prove to be a very intrusive situation.
“I might be upset sometimes when people are looking into my private business but it is part of public duty and it is ingenious of people who on one hand question the integrity of certain members of Government but think that a different rule should apply for them. So I am disappointed that some Members of Parliament would believe that we should not be looking into their business. Once we swear in as a Member of Parliament that should be a given…”
And according to the Minister, he has noted that there has been great support by some political parties that have for some time now been calling for freedom of information.
“I wonder how genuine this freedom of information concern is. We can’t on the one hand call for a Freedom of Information Bill but then have a problem with submitting our Integrity Commission forms. It is part of the freedom of information,” Dr Ramsammy asserted.
He highlighted the fact that the public has a right to know who public officials are as well as what kind of wealth they may have acquired.
Should persons choose to protect their privacy they should simply opt not to run for public office or not apply for jobs that fall under the category which requires public scrutiny, the Minister affirmed.
“If you think it is too intrusive don’t do it. They should just give up their Member of Parliament title because there still is the law and it says that we must submit our returns by the end of June each year.”
According to the Minister, there is the argument about the Integrity Commission that it is not properly constituted.
However, he noted that whether it is constituted properly or not does not change the fact that there is a law.
“I think it is contempt not only to the law but to the people we serve to say I know there is a law but I am not going to submit. The Guyanese public needs to demand greater transparency from the people that serve them, and the people that serve them are not just government ministers, it’s also Members of Parliament…whether they are in the front or back benches.”
Minister Ramsammy is adamant that local MPs should not be exempted from such a process, even as he noted that Presidents of the United States of America have been obligated to present to the media their income tax returns on an annual basis.
“If MPs have a problem with the commission for openness and transparency then they should question the composition of the Integrity Commission, then go to the media and say see, I have nothing to hide…If they have a problem with the commission then all of them should go around the table every year, call the media and say these are our forms because the whole thing about the commission is to make it open…”
As such the Minister urged that it would simply be in the best interest of MPs to comply with the law to submit their Integrity Commission forms as soon as possible.
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