The Integrity Commission will soon be able to do more than just collect statements from politicians regarding their accumulated wealth.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, told the media on Friday at his post cabinet press briefing that the coalition government is currently examining the mandate of the Commission with the aim of giving it powers to investigate the truthfulness of such declarations.
Harmon said that there is still some work to be done at the Commission which he visited last week. He said, too, that he held discussions with the entity’s Chief Executive Officer.
The Minister asserted that the government is of the opinion that the Commission does not have enough power to enforce any of its decisions.
He said, “Public officials would just submit statements to the Commission and there was no clear procedure as to what happens after that. We need to ensure that there is some mechanism within the law to allow for follow ups.
“I discussed this matter with the CEO. I told him that there are models in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and all across the Caribbean region where submissions to the Commission are subjected to further scrutiny.”
Harmon continued, “So when you go and say you got one house when you actually have 12 others across the country and the Commission does not have the capacity to investigate that, then it is a waste of time. This is what we had in the past. Statements are taken to the Commission and then there is no follow up.
“We want a Commission that has the capacity to follow up when statements are made by public officers and action needs to be taken.”
The Minister of State added, “I can assure you that it is something that we are very concerned about. So people who are in public life cannot start making demands that you declare before I do and then he declares and she declares.
“It will be required that by a certain time of the year, you declare your assets and if you don’t then the Commission has certain powers to do something about it.”
Harmon said that the Commission has been operating without a Chairman and Commissioners for years. He informed the media that discussions on this matter were held with the CEO as well.
He reminded that there were some names of Commissioners recommend during the Tenth Parliament but they were not appointed by the then President, Donald Ramotar. He said that in such a case, the matter will therefore have to go back to the National Assembly for new persons to be recommended and appointed.
Harmon said that for the time being, the Integrity Commission is functioning with a very small staff with a very limited budget.
When the coalition government served in the opposition, it had made it pellucid that it would not respond to the calls of the Integrity Commission for the declaration of assets until the body was equipped with a Chairman.
In a published advertisement in this newspaper on August 20, 2014, the Integrity Commission called on all public officers who are required by law, to submit their 2014 declaration forms to the Office of the Integrity Commission.
It reminded, too, that all defaulting public officials are to submit their outstanding declaration forms from1997 to 2013 to the Commission as soon as possible.
It added that failure to file a declaration with the Commission is an offence under the Commission’s Act and is subject to Section 22 of the said Act.
When President David Granger served as the Opposition Leader, he had said, “When there is an appointment of a chairman to a properly constituted Integrity Commission, only then will the APNU members declare their assets.”
Some public officials had told this newspaper that they view the then call by the Integrity Commission for the declaration of assets from 1997 to 2013 as a mere joke.
Leader of the Alliance For Change, Khemraj Ramjattan, was also firm position on this matter. He had said that if the assets declared by the Parliamentarians and other public officials are found to be untruthful they should be jailed.
He had called attention to the fact that many high-ranking public officials have assets that are unequal to their salaries.
The Vice President had noted that the Commission is “half baked” and needs to step up to the task of verifying the truthfulness of declarations, and particularly if there are foreign bank accounts.
In addition, he had said that proper investigations should be conducted to ascertain how Government Ministers and other public officials acquire their wealth.
Under the laws, public officers including the President, Permanent Secretaries, Director of Public Prosecutions, Auditor General, Commissioner of Police, the Army Chief, Heads of the Services Commissions, Foreign Affairs officials, Judges and Magistrates and Department Heads are required to declare their assets.
Also required to submit declaration forms of their earnings and gifts received are Regional Executive Officers, the Chief Elections Officer, Mayors, Chairpersons and Chief Executive Officers of state companies, Registrars of Lands and the Commissioner of Guyana Revenue Authority, along with Presidential Advisors, and Heads of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and Guyana Forestry Commission.
The idea behind the declarations is to ensure that no official has suddenly acquired large amounts of cash or property without proper justification. At this point, the Commission is just seen as a toothless poodle.
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