Oct 10, 2016 News
– despite $24M annual salary as Commissioner of Information
By: Kiana Wilburg
Every month, Charles Ramson Snr. collects an attractive $2M package to ensure that citizens have easy access to information.
But the former Chief Justice is being accused of thwarting the process.
For this reason and others, former Auditor General, Anand Goolsarran is convinced that taxpayers are not getting value for money when it comes to the Commissioner of Information, Charles Ramson Snr.
Goolsarran said that every month, citizens are saddled with supporting an approximately $2M salary for Ramson when his efforts deny citizens’ right to access to information.
“Mr. Ramson’s basic salary is at least $1.5 million per month. Along with other benefits and allowances, it would exceed $2 million. Also, one recalls his ‘no money, no love’ reaction to Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. (TIGI) when it requested certain information. In this regard, Ramson cited the then Opposition-controlled National Assembly’s cutting off of funds for the then Office of the President under which he operated. The Commissioner should have been held accountable for denying TIGI access to the requested information.”
Speaking to another worrying observation, Goolsarran said that he checked the Access to Information Act and found that there is no provision in terms of limit in the tenure of office of the Commissioner.
In this regard, the former Auditor General said, “For how long more will this imposition continue? No one knows. Meanwhile, the taxpaying public continues to be burdened with a monthly $2 million dollar bill for which little or no value for money is being received.”
The Chartered Accountant stated that what compounds the issue is the fact that Parliament is yet to receive a report on the application of the Access to Information Act as well as the operations of Ramson’s office.
According to the Act governing Ramson’s office, the responsible Minister, should, “as soon as practicable but not later than nine months, after the end of each year lay a report on the operation of this (Access to Information) Act in the National Assembly.”
The Act also states that the said report should include the number of requests made to the Commissioner of Information; the number of applications for judicial review of decisions and the outcome of those applications; the number of complaints made to the Commissioner of Information with respect to the operation of the Act and the nature of those complaints; the number of notices served upon the Commissioner of Information and the number of decisions by the Commissioner which were adverse to the person’s claim.
Goolsarran noted that the handing over of annual reports to the National Assembly is a key requirement of the law.
He said that the failure of the Commissioner’s office in this regard stymies any effort to carry out an assessment on the effectiveness of the Access to Information Act. The former Auditor General said this is a significant shortcoming in attempts to provide citizens and organisations with access to information of government programmes and activities.
Additionally, there have been accusations to the effect that Ramson has not been forthcoming when requests are made to him by members of the public. However, Ramson is of the opinion that it is the public that is not making use of him as he has received less than 16 applications since he assumed the position.
In response to Ramson’s claims in this regard, Goolsarran said that the main reason for the public not utilising his services is that people do not have any confidence whatsoever in the present Commissioner.
He said, “Once the Access to Information Act was passed, a Commissioner of Information had to be found. The Donald Ramotar Administration handpicked him, knowing fully well that the person is totally unsuitable for the position. His appointment was an imposition aimed precisely at producing the opposite results which is denying citizens’ right to access to information. He was the man best suited to do that.”
Kaieteur News made efforts to contact Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, who is in charge of matters regarding access to information. But Minister Nagamootoo is currently in India.
Acting until his return, Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Greenidge expressed deep concern about the matter.
Greenidge who has spoken on numerous occasions about the importance of access to information over the years committed to look into the issue.
Greenidge said that while his passionate views on the topic remain unchanged, he will make efforts to ascertain why Ramson did not ensure reports were laid in the National Assembly as stipulated by the law.
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