Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo has tabled some amendments to the Integrity Commission legislation for Cabinet’s consideration.
The First Vice President stated that the Government is desirous of strengthening the Integrity Legislation and to have a process by which the Chairperson of the Commission could be selected from consultations and not be the subject of any political diktat.
“It is awful that the Commission, where persons in high offices were expected to declare their assets, was headless for several years. It remains so to this day and we need a process by which we can have this important body reconstituted and perform the functions for which it has been established to ensure that we don’t have officials and others benefitting from disproportionate wealth, or ill-gotten wealth, or unjust enrichment.”
The Prime Minister also stated that it is necessary for Government to have a code of conduct for persons in public office. In this regard, he said that it is necessary to have a fence to protect officials from being “contaminated” and guidelines for them to ensure that they are “clean”.
The principle behind the declaration of assets to the Integrity Commission by senior public officers is to ensure that they do not acquire large amounts of cash or property without proper justification to the nation. But the Commission is yet to fulfill this fundamental code which led to its creation.
This state of affairs was heavily criticized by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) when the parties served in the political opposition.
But it has been more than year since the APNU+AFC coalition took office and there has been no change to the fact that the commission continues to operate without a Chairman.
In an interview with this newspaper, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had acknowledged that the Commission has not been functioning properly for some time. But since he has assumed responsibility for it, a fresh approach is being looked at.
“As PM I am now taking a fresh look at the Commission, with a view to having a fully composed Commission with members and a Chairman, and I received a report that came from a consultant who made recommendations as to how we can enhance the work and composition of the Integrity Commission.”
Nagamootoo recalled that the Ministry of Governance, which was controlled by Raphael Trotman, was housed in the Ministry of the Presidency. He said that since Trotman was appointed Natural Resources Minister, the Governance portfolio was transferred to him (Nagamootoo).
He said that there might have been some attempts during Trotman’s time, to examine the composition of the Commission. Nagamootoo said that there was also a study that was commissioned to examine the weaknesses of the Integrity Commission with a view to strengthening it.
“That study looked at all aspects of the Commission, not only at the members and secretariat, but the enforcement arm of it,” Nagamootoo added.
In this regard, the Prime Minister said that there is no use in having such a Commission with the necessary people and it is unable to carry out proper investigations, and more importantly, take action on the findings of the probes carried out.
He promised that a more comprehensive look is underway with regard to the commission and its functions.
It was since last year September that Minister of State Joseph Harmon said that the Integrity Commission would soon be able to do more than just collect statements from politicians regarding their accumulated wealth.
Harmon explained that the coalition government was examining the mandate of the Commission with the aim of giving it powers to investigate the truthfulness of such declarations.
The Minister had asserted that the government was, and still is, of the opinion that the Commission does not have enough power to enforce any of its decisions.
He had stated, “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 of the Commission. 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’ve 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 had said the Commission has been operating without a Chairman and Commissioners for years. He reminded that there were some names of Commissioners recommended 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.
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, Army Chief-of-Staff, Heads of the Services Commissions, Foreign Affairs officials, Judges, 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 the Guyana Revenue Authority, along with Presidential Advisors, and Heads of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and Guyana Forestry Commission.
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