Jan 21, 2021 Letters
The recent disclosures that expensive gifts were purchased for the General Manager of the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation (DHBC) and two former ministers, is another blatant example of the lack of ethics and professionalism demonstrated by and under the former government. The notion of ethics underscores a moral duty and obligation to distinguish between right and wrong or good and bad. It embodies a consciousness of moral importance and professionalism. Professional ethics are guiding principles that are expected to be followed by people in positions of public trust. Unfortunately, both ethics and professionalism seem to have eluded those who approved, processed, and accepted the gifts in question.
While the existence of a code of ethics or conflict of interest policy at the DHBC or the Ministry of Public Infrastructure is an important consideration, distinguishing between substantial gifts and mere tokens of appreciation is a relatively simple matter of professional judgment. The perception of any gift of value given to or accepted by a government and/or pseudo-government official can be easily construed as a conflict of interest and, therefore, deemed inappropriate. Under certain circumstances, such practice borderline bribery and corruption.
In reference to Mr. Adams, General Manager of the DHBC, it was noted that the Board of Directors purportedly approved the gift. Be that as it may, it should not matter whether the governing board approved the gift. What matters is the General Manager’s professional judgment, which seemed to be lacking at the time. Considering the appropriateness, timing, and value of the gift in question, he should have politely refused the jewellery on ethical grounds. While Mr. Adams resigned and took the moral high ground to repay and return the gift, this is only due to a special audit exposing the ethical dilemma he ultimately failed to navigate responsibly. What should have been a routine and respectful decline of the gift has now cost him his job.
In a recent statement, Mr. Patterson noted that “at no time did I ever request, solicit or influence in any way the action of any agency in relation to the presentation of gifts to me or other officials of the government” and “that the gifts presented to him during his incumbency were fully compliant with the procurement guidelines of the giving agency.” It should not matter whether a gift was requested or solicited or if the acquisition followed stipulated procurement policies, procedures, or practices. What matters is Mr. Patterson’s poor judgment and apparent lack of ethics to accept a gift of significant value at taxpayers’ expense. Additionally, the value of the gift he received cannot be dismissed as mere memorabilia or a token of appreciation. Thus, Mr. Patterson should do the honorable thing and resign from his position as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. This breach of public trust suggests that he is no longer “fit and proper” to champion accountability in Guyana.
The next question is whether the practice of buying expensive gifts for public officials was far more pervasive under the former government than is currently known. Thus, the heads of other government ministries, departments, regions, and agencies should be called upon to disclose similar gifts bought for public officials using taxpayers’ dollars, and every effort should be made to recover the value of such gifts.
Abiding by ethical standards and practices is non-negotiable for a country expected to benefit from a windfall of oil revenues in the coming years. Hence, these revelations also underscore the greater need for ongoing ethics training across government entities. At a minimum, all public officials should undergo annual ethics training and be required to sign a code of ethics. I also join Mr. Rohee in calling for the Audit Office to be granted law enforcement powers to pursue and combat fraud, waste, and abuse.
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