By Abena Rockcliffe
The change of government in Guyana—from one that faced countless accusations of corruption from left,
right and centre to one that paints itself as the bastion of clean and democratic governance—has in no way diminished the United States’ interest in ensuring Guyana has adequate anti-corruption mechanisms.
The United States Chief of Mission in Guyana, Ambassador Perry Holloway said that his Embassy would still like to see more anti-corruption measures in place, suggesting that these can never be too much.
He said this during a recent exclusive interview with Kaieteur News at the US Embassy, Duke Street Kingston.
Holloway was asked to comment on the absence of an active Integrity Commission, and whether or not he viewed it as imperative and should become operational soon.
The Ambassador chose not to comment on the Commission as a single policy measure to deter corruption, but emphasised that the US is all for any strong mechanism intended to address corruption.
Holloway said, “The United States is all for transparency and anti-corruption measures. So as much as I assume an Integrity Commission would deal with that (corruption), that is the extent to which I will agree it is important.”
He added that the concept of greater transparency in public officials is one that the US has made continuous efforts to promote in Guyana as well as other countries around the world.
Holloway indicated that there are existing anti-corruption programmes that the US actively supports the government on.
However, as to say what are some of the immediate measures to be taken to address corruption in Guyana and whether the Integrity Commission is urgent in this regard, Holloway asserted, “it is for the government of Guyana, the people and the parliament to decide on the best way to do that”.
The envoy added, “I think one of the challenges facing Guyana is that it is still a developing country, it is a young country, relatively speaking, and so it has lots of challenges. So while any given issue reported in the newspaper is important, it is hard for a government to work on all at once. Therefore there needs to be a priority, but unfortunately when you prioritize, it brings a different issue.”
“Let’s say her issue is A and yours B. When I prioritize B because I believe it’s the most important, there are those who will complain everyday about A not being addressed or worked on,” Holloway explained.
He stressed that the US is interested in seeing minimum corruption, but is not going to tell Guyana how to get to such a point.
“But again I say it is for the government and the people to decide how they will go about having greater transparency and anti-corruption practices, but it is certainly a key part of any successful democracy,” said Holloway.
The 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index recently released by Transparency International indicated that Guyana has shown little sign of improvement.
Guyana received a score of 29, signaling a slip one place down from its score last year. But Guyana did improve in ranking. In 2014 it was ranked 124 out of 175 countries, but in 2015 it moved up to 119 out of 168 countries. Three other countries tied with Guyana in the 119th position. These were Azerbaijan, Russia and Sierra Leone.
The report said that any score below 50 indicates a serious corruption problem. Guyana has never been above that. Additionally, two-thirds of the countries surveyed scored less than 50.
Guyana’s Continental and Regional neighbours did better than it in 2015. The report revealed that Trinidad and Tobago scored 39 while Brazil and Jamaica scored 38 and 41 respectively. Suriname earned a score of 36 while Haiti got a score of 17.
The Corruption Perceptions Index measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption worldwide. The scores are measured from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).
The report said that Governments are willing to pass laws addressing corruption, yet enforcing them is a different matter. It said that laws need real teeth.
Transparency International emphasized that Governments must tackle political corruption.
The new government had said that the Integrity Commission will soon be able to do more than just collect statements from politicians regarding their accumulated wealth.
Since last September, Minister of State Joseph Harmon told the media 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. He said, too, that he held discussions with the entity’s Chief Executive.
Harmon said that the Commission has been operating without a Chairman and Commissioners for years.
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 from 1997 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.”
The new government is yet to appoint a chairman.
Meanwhile, the opposition is calling for the government to ensure the operationalisation of the Commission.
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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