“The returns will be filed away only to gather dust”
In light of the recent call by the Integrity Commission for all public officials to submit their 2014 declaration forms,
Former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran says that for many reasons, public officials should not even give the request a “second look.”
In a published advertisement in this newspaper yesterday, the Integrity Commission called on all public officers to submit their 2014 declaration forms to the Office of the Integrity Commission. It sought to remind that the closing date for submission is today. It reminded too that all default public officials are to submit their outstanding declaration forms from1997 to 2013 to the Commission.
It said too that failure to file declarations with the Commission is an offence according to the Commission’s Act and is subject to Section 22 of the said Act.
The Commission said that declarants are also advised to attach supporting documents for the information provided in their forms.
Goolsarran gave some background to the Integrity Commission with reference to its Act which was passed in 1997.
Though the Act was passed then, the Former Auditor General said that it was not until 1999, that the first Commissioners were appointed, exclusively from the religious community.
Goolsarran, who has been highly critical of Government’s lack of transparency and questionable accounting policies, pointed out that arguably, the Commissioners would have lacked the relevant skills to properly evaluate the declarations made to the Commission and therefore, it would have been necessary to engage the services of professional persons skilled in investigative work. However, there was no evidence that this was done.
He explained that the Commissioners were re-appointed after their tenure expired, without consultation with the Opposition Leader as required by the Act. This prompted the Opposition Leader to take legal action in May 2005 to nullify the appointments. To date, there has been no hearing.
The anti-corruption advocate said that in April 2006, the Chairman of the Commission resigned, and since then he has not been replaced. In addition, since the Chairman’s resignation, there has been no sitting of the Commission for want of a quorum.
In 2009, three Commissioners were appointed, but again without consultation with the Opposition Leader. Again also, no Chairman was appointed.
While it is a requirement of the law for Ministers of the Government, Members of Parliament and senior public servants, among others, to make annual declarations of income, assets and liabilities, Goolsarran emphasized that it is also a requirement of the law to have a duly constituted and fully functioning Commission in place.
In the circumstances, he said that it makes no sense for such declarations to be made, as such an exercise becomes a mere academic one.
The former Auditor General believes that the returns will be filed away only to gather dust, which is not the intention of the law. He also made the point that it is also not publicly known whether the Commission has ever “investigated anyone based on their declarations and whether any prosecutions have been initiated.”
Goolsarran also stressed that Guyana is a signatory to both the Inter-American Convention against Corruption and the United Nations Convention against Corruption. A key requirement in both conventions is for there to be in place an effective and functioning system for annual declarations of income, assets and liabilities in respect of the above-mentioned persons.
“Few will deny that perceptions of corruption have reached an unprecedented level, indeed, its highest point in the history of the country, with many senior public officials flaunting unexplained wealth with impunity. Yet we have a dysfunctional system in place, perhaps deliberately so.”
Goolsarran opined that corruption invariably benefits the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged women, children and youths, since funds are diverted away from programmes that can lift them out of poverty.
“If we are serious about fighting corruption, our politicians need to get their act together and appoint members of the Integrity Commission who are professionally competent and independent of the political directorate.”
The Commission should also be provided with adequate resources to enable it to discharge its responsibilities, including initiating investigations and prosecuting those for whom there is evidence of the acquisition of unexplained wealth.”
“We continue to boast about successive years of economic growth, but how much of that growth is accounted for through illicit gains and how much of it cascades down to the poor and vulnerable, disadvantaged and the unemployed? What we are experiencing is growth without development.
No wonder the latest United Nations Human Development Report places us as the second lowest in this part of the world, the lowest being Haiti. No wonder also that on the Corruption Perceptions Index, we occupy a similar place. How proud are we when we consider the results of these assessments?”Goolsarran concluded.
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