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Nov 25, 2017 News
Political scientist and executive member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) is troubled by the inclusion of a “Duty not to disclose information” clause in the Petroleum Commission Bill.
The bill, which stands in the name of Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, has been laid in the National Assembly, but is yet to make its way on to the Order Paper.
The bill says, “Subject to this Act and any other applicable law, a person who is a member of the Board or officer or member of staff of the Commission shall not disclose any information, which he may have obtained in the course of his employment.”
Further, the bill states, “A person who ceases to be a member of the Board or officer or a member of staff of the Commission shall not disclose any information, which he may have obtained in the course of his employment for a period of ten years, and shall not be employed by, work for or be contracted by any operator under regulation for a period of two years.”
The bill says that a person who leaks information is guilty of committing an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5M and to imprisonment for three years.
During an interview with this newspaper, Dr, Hinds said that such a clause represents a step in the wrong direction for government.
“I find this clause very troubling, especially since it does not provide any limit on what could not be divulged.”
Dr. Hinds said that he is not oblivious to the fact that there is need for confidentiality, but is appalled at the broad scope of the clause that demands secrecy.
“I can understand the need to ensure confidentiality. But surely, if someone discovers impropriety or outright corruption at the Petroleum Commission, he or she should not be lawfully prevented from disclosing such information,” said Dr. Hinds.
The political analyst said that with such broad barriers being placed against divulgence of information in an industry that is traditionally fraught with corruption, one can only conclude that the framers of the bill are more interested in confidentiality and less concerned about transparency.
Dr. Hinds submitted that any government that is interested in good and open governance would try as hard as possible to balance the need for confidentially with transparency.
“When one couples the reluctance of the government to release the contract to the public and this clause, there seems to be a worrying pattern. What we need are more signs of transparency, not less. All stakeholders need to question this clause. And the government needs to first explain the rationale behind the inclusion of this clause, and then open it for debate and possible exclusion from the final law.”
He continued, “We have to learn from the experiences of other countries in this regard and not repeat their mistakes. Further, this government was most brutal in its condemnation of the PPP government on the matter of transparency. So, it has a moral duty not to appear to be walking down that road or open itself to that charge.”
President of Transparency Guyana Incorporated (TIGI), Dr. Troy Thomas, had opined that the government’s inclusion of a “Duty not to disclose information” clause in the proposed act is ominous.
He said, “It tells me that there is really no commitment to transparency as it relates to the oil industry. Why should such a bill state that people can be jailed for releasing information?”
Dr. Thomas questioned, “Why didn’t they say that persons can release information on corruption?”
Dr. Thomas said that overall, legislation in Guyana is seemingly designed to give politicians “enough room to manoeuver. In this way, they do not ultimately have to be accountable, and you are seeing this as a common thread throughout the various Acts.”
Dr. Thomas said that he finds it odd that politicians do not want to be held accountable, “but they can hold me accountable for finding information and releasing information.”
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