Mar 04, 2021 News
– says nothing about accountability and spending
Kaieteur News – Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon, has stated that in his view, the recent media reports relating to occurrences at the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), are an attempt to dismantle it.
Harmon made this assertion during his Budget Debate speech on Monday, during which he also stated that under the coalition’s purview, the ERC remained a robust apolitical independent institution, “with full powers under the law to pursue anyone who sought to sow the seeds of division among our people.” He went on to say that, the opposition never considered interfering with the ERC’s independence and once allowed to fulfill its mandate with robust leadership, it can play a pivotal role in the resolution of national ethnic issues.
“Mr. Speaker, the daily revelations however in the media of the ERC, appears to be in my view, an attempt to dismantle this very important commission and to damage its impartiality. We must guard against this insidious attempt by persons who are uncomfortable with the composition of the ethnic relations commission,” Harmon said.
But, as he pinpointed the aforementioned, Harmon did not attempt to highlight or clarify any of the recent revelations about the current ERC, which included the excessive granting of Christmas bonuses, other instances of unjust spending/malpractices with public funds, disunity within and its failure to adequately step-up during the harrowing five-month election period last year.
Notably, the current Commission was reconstituted by the former coalition government on February 22, 2018, and saw the swearing-in of 10 new commissioners by former president, David Granger. Upon its establishment, the Commission was adequately funded, but this publication would have reported that in the past seven years it received over $900M in budgetary allocations, with minute accountability for the public funds, which it was provided.
The recent media reports on the happenings at the ERC came after Commissioner, Haji Roshan Khan, highlighted issues within the Commission that could potentially lead to “serious catastrophe.” Khan has detailed these in a letter published in this newspaper’s February 15, 2021 edition.
Among the things reported on was ERC Commissioners granting themselves a $150,000 Christmas bonus and $100,000 for ERC staff which went against the government’s advisory of $25,000 per person as a bonus in statutory bodies.
The ERC’s Chairman, Reverend John Smith, even sought to clarify the granting of the excessive Christmas bonus, claiming that it was an honourarium, which in this case was for COVID-19 relief. However meeting minutes from the November 26, 2020 statutory meeting where the granting of the bonus was determined, contradicted Smith’s claims. There was no record of the bonus being allocated as COVID-19 relief in the meeting minutes.
Khan had said, “Some also wanted a risk allowance to fly on a plane. They wanted risk allowance to go in the jungle. They wanted high-quality boots, which I declined, as the boots were provided at the virtual end of our term.” He also noted that the Commissioners wanted all of those things despite being more than well compensated and earning exceptionally high remuneration for “part-time work.”
Additionally, upon assuming office in 2015, the opposition sought to amend the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, which allowed constitutional agencies, like the ERC, to have independence with their allocations. Before the 2015 amendment, constitutional agencies had their budgetary allocations placed under scrutiny by their subject Minister.
The act was amended yet again, by the PPP government, and it was stated that the coalition’s amendment removed billions of dollars from Parliamentary scrutiny, that by law, could only be spent after scrutiny.
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