The local transparency body yesterday said the government may wish to reconsider whether Commissioner of Information Charles Ramson is the fit and proper person for the position, slamming his response to an official request as “distasteful”.
Transparency Institute Guyana Inc (TIGI) in a column in yesterday’s Stabroek News noted that it had written to Ramson, a former attorney general, on June 9th requesting a copy of the contract between the government and the Canadian firm which had implemented a custom-built automated financial management system here. This was because TIGI had learnt through the media that two of the modules of the Integrated Financial Management System had not been implemented after many years even though they were perhaps the most important aspects of the government’s financial management system.
TIGI, which was recently accredited as a “National Chapter in Formation” to Transparency International, the international anti-corruption non-governmental organization, said it was taken aback by the tone of the Commissioner’s response.
The key part said “As you are aware, and it is assumed that your acute concerns are national and not partisan in nature,
budgetary allocations for this Office have been excised from the Estimates for 2014. The foreseeable consequences of which need concern your Institute pari passu, with the effect it will have on the morale of the staff, production and productivity. Regrettably, therefore, your request, even if contemplated by the Act creating this Office, cannot be considered until such time that retroactive approval is given for resources to be made available to this Office. A rudimentary perusal of the aforementioned Act will inform you of a mandate conferred on no less a person than H.E. the President, to provide the Commissioner with the appropriate resources.
“In the words of the famous calypsonian, Mighty Sparrow, `no money, no love’. No doubt, your Institute, if at all influential, could ameliorate the disastrous consequences visited upon workers in general.”
The Directors of TIGI in yesterday’s column said that while it was true that the National Assembly didn’t approve funds for the Office of the President under Programme 011 (Administrative Service) for 2014 under which the Commissioner receives its resources, the Minister of Finance nevertheless went ahead and authorized the withdrawal of funds totalling $6.859 million for the Office of the Commissioner of Information for the period 1 January to 16 June 2014.
TIGI said this was evidenced by Financial Paper 1/2014 – Statement of Excess – that the Minister tabled in the National Assembly on 19 June 2014. Therefore, TIGI said that the response from the Commissioner suggesting that there was no funding for his Office, and his statement “no money, no love” are “not only distasteful but are also misleading”. TIGI said that now that the question of funding for the Commissioner’s Office has been put to rest, it is its hope that the Commissioner will now address the request for information.
Noting that the Commissioner in his response also referred to the morale of his staff as well as production and productivity being adversely affected, TIGI said that a perusal of the Estimates for 2014 does not indicate the level of staffing of the Commissioner’s Office.
Financial paper 1/2014, TIGI said, indicates that amounts totalling $5.859 million pertain to Employment Costs while the figure of one million dollars refers to Other Charges. TIGI said it would be happy to learn about the level of resources made available to the Commissioner and how the morale of the staff had been adversely affected since the Minister had made funds available for the payment of salaries and to meet other costs.
“The Commissioner has trivialised TIGI’s request in quoting the Mighty Sparrow, `no money, no love’. The Mighty Sparrow is an entertainer but TIGI is not in the business of entertaining. In addition, the Commissioner’s statement that `No doubt, your Institute, if at all influential, could ameliorate the disastrous consequences visited upon workers in general’ smacks of arrogance”, TIGI declared.
It added that Ramson’s response also attempts to deprecate the work of the Institute whose role is in line with one of the key requirements of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (IACAC) and the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), both of which Guyana is a signatory to.
“It is incumbent therefore upon the Commissioner to show a greater degree of respect and appreciation of the TIGI’s role as a civil society organization devoted to the promotion of good governance, transparence and greater accountability as well as the eradication of corruption. The failure to do so, and the Commissioner’s attitude to dealing with a simple request for a copy of a document raise serious questions about his suitability for the position. They also do a disservice to the Government’s commitment in adhering to the requirements of IACAC and UNCAC”, TIGI asserted.
It pointed out that the Access to Information Act delineates a practical regime of the right for persons to secure access to information under the control of public authorities. Section 5(2) of the Act states that the Commissioner shall be a clearinghouse for processing requests. “The attitude of the Commissioner raises also serious questions about his willingness to provide citizens with reasonable access to information on government programmes and activities”, TIGI lamented.
TIGI noted that the Act was passed in September 2011, just two months ahead of the national elections but that the Commissioner was only appointed on 15 July 2013, almost two years later. Seven months after he took up appointment, the Commissioner was yet to receive a request for information.
“No doubt, because of his attitude to a simple request for information from TIGI, citizens may very well be reluctant to approach his Office. If the Government is seriously committed to transparency and accountability in providing citizens with reasonable access to information, it may wish to re-consider whether the present Commissioner is the fit and proper person for the position”, TIGI stated.