In recent years, public officials and other executives of state agencies have been coming under fire for
questionable decisions taken during the course of their duties.
Recently, another scenario has crept in—that of officials receiving concessions like mining lands and other benefits while in office- some of them extravagant.
In a number of cases, some of the officials in defending their questionable decisions said they were following instructions from the Government.
While the decisions taken and the land and other concessions that the officials benefitted from might not have been illegal, the transactions have raised serious ethical and moral questions.
Yesterday, Attorney-at-Law and President of the Guyana Bar Association, Christopher Ram, was of the firm belief that the urgent adoption of a Code of Conduct for public officials, which is in draft form at the moment, will solve of the dilemma facing the David Granger administration.
Announced last year, the draft code is designed to spell out how officers should behave while in office.
The David Granger administration has vowed to introduce measures and tighten up controls in Government and other state agencies to ensure transparency and reduce corruption.
Government recently said that it will allow for more public input into the draft code before it is taken to the Cabinet of Ministers for approval. From there it will be taken to the National Assembly for adoption.
“Our position (Bar Association) is that any Code of Conduct for public officials should be one that is legally enforceable. You cannot have a code that no one takes seriously because of an absence of penalties,” Ram said.
He said that note was taken of report in Kaieteur News over the weekend in which Clerk of the National
Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs, between 2012-2015, applied for and was granted over 40 blocks of mining lands, or over 50,000 acres.
Isaacs, in defending the mining concessions, insisted that he breached no laws. He pointed out that Article 158(5) (c) of the Constitution is clear.
“It does not prevent me, as Clerk of the National Assembly, from being in business.”
As a matter of fact, the Constitution says that “An officer so appointed shall not, during his or her continuance in the Office of Clerk or Deputy Clerk, perform the functions of any public office …”
The Constitution, Isaacs insisted, does not say that he cannot be a farmer or miner and cannot hold concessions for agricultural or mining purposes.
“Also, I am of the opinion that the holding of the concessions by me does not give rise to a conflict of interest. Further, as far as I know, I have not contravened any code of conduct or other rules in relation to the Office of Clerk of the National Assembly.”
A creature called Brassington
Another case that was hotly debated, recently, was that of Winston Brassington.
Brassington headed the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) and the Privatisation Unit, two state agencies that spearheaded several transactions on behalf of the state that were questionable in its very nature.
Several state properties were sold and transferred with questions about whether monies were paid. In some
cases, there are indications that the properties were below market value.
Brassington also overlooked a number of investments on behalf of the previous People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government, among them the Berbice River Bridge and the Marriott Hotel. Both transactions saw little or no Parliamentary input.
Brassington, in defending his actions, insisted that he was abiding by instructions from the Cabinet of Ministers – the government of the day.
The previous administration had described Brassington as a creature of the Cabinet.
There were recent, similar defence that no wrongdoings were involved in the granting of mining lands to high-ranking officials of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission.
“We made some comprehensive recommendations. We are saying because of the situation that is prevailing, adopt the current draft Code of Conduct…you can always fine-tune it. We cannot delay any longer,” Ram urged yesterday.
He said the recent cases make a strong argument for a working Code of Conduct that is in place.
Earlier this month, Government said that it will continue to receive written comments on the draft Code of Conduct for Ministers of Government, members of the National Assembly and public office holders.
Already, feedback has been received from the Guyana Bar Association and the Guyana Human Rights Association, among others.
“In an effort to ensure a thorough and comprehensive code which benefits from the widest possible input, Government will allow for further comments before the code is presented to Cabinet for approval and finalization,” the Ministry of the Presidency explained.
The Code of Conduct is based on 10 principles – Accountability, Dignity, Diligence, Duty, Honour, Integrity, Loyalty, Objectivity, Responsibility and Transparency.
The draft document speaks to disciplinary actions or terminations for Ministers, Parliamentarians and other public office holders who are in breach. The draft document also addresses the acceptance of gifts of more than $10,000, conflicts of interest, accountability and even gambling.
In the past, there was little action against public officials, despite reported evidence.
This included discharging of a firearm, drunk driving and trading on insider information.
The purpose of the code is to assist Ministers, Members of Parliament and public office holders in the discharge of their obligations to their constituents and the public at large.
“It provides guidance on the values – the moral qualities – that should govern the conduct of Ministers and Members in discharging their Parliamentary and public duties. It is also meant to reinforce public confidence in the way in which Ministers and public office holders perform those duties.”
It was made clear that public office holders are duty bound by the code in all aspects of their public life. The code, however, does not seek to regulate the conduct of public office holders in their private and personal lives.
Regarding accountability, the draft code proposes that public office holders are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions, and must submit themselves to scrutiny and criticism.
They must also conduct themselves in a manner that is worthy of the respect of their peers and the public and be effective, efficient, courteous and reliable in the performance of their duties.
Of course, the issue of integrity was dealt with.
“Public office holders have a duty to declare any private interest relating to the discharge of their duties and responsibilities, and to ensure that their personal decisions and actions are not in conflict with the national interest.
“Public office holders should display allegiance to the state and should show concern for the well-being of the persons that they were elected to represent.”
In the area of responsibility, the draft code stated that Ministers collectively have a basic responsibility to make decisions only in the national interest void of any forms of personal gain, or other material benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.
Regarding the actions, the code said that Ministers should be open about all their public decisions and actions and be prepared to provide explanations when so demanded by the public.
When it comes to accepting gifts, it is being proposed that public officials should report gifts or other forms of reward valued at more than $10,000 to the Integrity Commission.
It was explained that a conflict of interest situation arises when the “private interests” of the public office holder compete or conflict with the interests of the state.
Private interests can mean both the financial and personal interests of the official and staff or those of their connections and would include family and other relations, personal friends, companies or business interests which they hold or own, and other clubs and societies to which they belong.
The draft code also speaks about trading on insider knowledge.
“Ministers, Members of Parliament and public office holders should avoid using their official position or any transmitting any information made available to them in the course of their to benefit themselves, their relations or any other individuals with whom they are associated. They should avoid compromising themselves or their office and which may lead to an actual or perceived conflict of interest.”
Also included in the draft code is, “Any official or staff who violates any provision of the Code will be subject to disciplinary action, or termination of appointment/employment where warranted. Members of the public may submit complaints to the Integrity Commission under Section 28 of the Integrity Commission Act with respect to perceived breaches of this Code of Conduct, or that of the Act.”
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