By Kiana Wilburg
A magnifying glass is not needed to find global or regional instances where oil money was
able to corrupt “the incorruptible.”
From Asia, to Africa and even the USA, the oil sector is one that has left devastating economic, social and political scars. These effects from which many nations are yet to recover decades later are often due to the absence of effective systems for transparency and accountability.
It is in this light that several advisors have stated that a functioning Integrity Commission will become an even more crucial anticorruption measure for the budding oil and gas industry in Guyana.
The former Minister of Energy for Trinidad and Tobago, Kevin Ramnarine, said that Guyana’s Integrity Commission must function and it must be independent of the government and its politics.
He said, “In Trinidad and Tobago, the Integrity Commission functions. Everyone who is listed as a public official must report to it. Once you have people in public life such as ministers, heads of state boards etc that is expected of you.”
Ramnarine added, “So with the coming of the oil and gas industry, and all the money that will be passing through Guyana, the Integrity Commission has to function and it has to be strong.”
The Strategic Advisor commented that before Guyana’s Petroleum Commission gets going its
Commissioner and board members should also be classified as persons in public life. He said that Guyana’s Petroleum Commission Bill should specify this as well.
Ramnarine said, “The Bill should state that the members of the Commission should report their assets to the Integrity Commission. The Commissioner who functions as the CEO must also report annually, his or her assets to the Commission. That’s a check and balance to ensure that people don’t run away in a certain direction that we don’t want them to.”
The former Energy Minister added, “The Integrity Commission functioning is important. I didn’t see it in the Petroleum Commission Bill but I have recommended that this be done. To prevent corruption and abuse you need certain institutions like the Integrity Commission which are strong and independent.”
Ramnarine asserted that Guyana will have about two and a half years to ensure that the Integrity Commission is functional, resourced and has the ability to oversee everyone in public life and not just those in the oil and sector industry.
He added, “I don’t want to be seen as coming from outside and telling Guyana what to do but it seems pretty obvious that that is the right thing to do.”
Political commentator and Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr. David Hinds, says that he is in full agreement with Ramnarine’s statements.
Dr. Hinds said that an Integrity Commission is pivotal to a democratic society. He said that it becomes even more important when one considers that Guyana is a society that is not accustomed to dealing with the volume of revenue that would come into the public purse from oil and gas.
The University Professor said, “We have to strengthen our institutions to ensure that they play the role that they are supposed to play. The point I am making is that the coming of oil changes everything in Guyana and so our public institutions must change to meet that new dispensation.”
Dr. Hinds continued, “So we not only need a functioning Integrity Commission but we need one that is empowered to do its job effectively. And by empowerment I mean that we must ensure that Commission does not become a partisan football. It must be free from political influence.”
The WPA Executive Member said that those who are charged with staffing the Commission must bear this in mind. Dr. Hinds also stated that the Commission members themselves must commit to serving the country rather than serving partisan interest.
Dr. Hinds said, “It is ok to say that we have an Integrity Commission but if it is one that does not have integrity and does not put country first then we are wasting our time. So we have to wake up to the reality that our track record as far as public corruption is concerned has not been a sterling one…”
The University Professor is of the firm belief that the Integrity Commission could make the difference between wanton corruption and the responsible management of the country’s resources.
TWO YEARS LATER
While the Government has given itself a pat on the back for making a number of strides in some areas, it is yet to set itself apart from its predecessor when it comes to the functioning of the Integrity Commission.
It has been two years into the administration’s reign and the nation still remains without an active Integrity Commission.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had said that while he can acknowledge this state of affairs, he is making an effort to correct it.
In this regard, the First Vice President said, “The Integrity law says that the Prime Minister shall recommend names to the President and if I get another two to three days I should be able to put my list of recommendations to him. I am working on it. I am working on recommendations to the President…”
Nagamootoo also stated that he is still looking at possible amendments to the Integrity Commission Act.
“At the moment there is no functioning Integrity Commission. There is no Chairman and no functioning body. There is probably one surviving member. I have to take a look at the composition and see who the existing members are. So I am trying to put a list of names to be sent to the President…”
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. With the Commission not functioning, it is yet to fulfill this fundamental code which led to its creation.
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.
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