Integrity Commission not functioning

The Integrity Commission is not functioning and the programme of reform recommended by the World Bank’s 2002 Country Financial Accountability Assessment (CFAA) and the subsequent recommendation by the Fiduciary Oversight Study is being stymied by a lack of funding and direction.

The chairman, Head of the Anglican Diocese of Guyana, Bishop Randolph George, appointed initially by former President Mrs Janet Jagan and subsequently by President Bharrat Jagdeo tendered his resignation during the first quarter of 2006.

Stabroek News understands that there was no reply to Bishop George from the President and according to the Office of the Integrity Commission, he still remains officially the chairman of the four-member commission.

The other commissioners are President of the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana, Fazeel Ferouz; Secretary of the Guyana Council of Churches, Nigel Hazel; and Director on the National Commission for Family, Pandit Rabindranauth Persaud. Stabroek News made contact with two of the commissioners but neither was prepared to speak on the record.

This newspaper understands that since Bishop George’s resignation the commissioners have not met because of lack of a quorum, and the commission has not been functioning.

According to the Integrity Act Section 9 (2) “Where the Chairman cannot for any reason attend any sitting of the commission, the members present and forming a quorum may elect one of their number to act as chairman for that meeting.”

Section 9 (4), also, states that three members of the commission shall constitute a quorum.

The CFAA, which had found several deficiencies in the fiscal, financial and fiduciary management systems in the country had made a number of recommendations but had narrowed them down to three critical components, one of which was “To strengthen the Integrity Commission’s operations relating to the disclosure of public officials’ assets.”

Based on the CFAA, the July 2005 fiduciary study, conducted by Bradford and Associates in association with Castalia Strategic Advisors, Southern Cross International and Ashton Chase and Associates, identified a number of specific recommendations, 30 of which were approved and selected for implementation by the government, and two of which related specifically to the strengthening of the Integrity Commission.

The main recommendation of the fiduciary study, also known as the ‘Bradford report,’ was that the role of the commission be remodelled based on the Trinidad and Tobago Integrity Commission with four specific objectives – prevention, investigation, enforcement, and enlistment of public support.

Lack of funding

A source told Stabroek News that since the recommendations were made two years ago the Policy Coordination and Programme Management Unit in the Office of the President was prepared to invite eligible consultants to indicate their interest in providing services to design the reform of the commission. However, lack of funding has caused a delay in the tendering process.

The terms of reference for the consultants would include drafting of new legislation/regulations, developing new procedures and systems, conducting staff assessment needs and redesigning the organization, among other areas.

However, the work of the secretariat is reportedly continuing on the strength of its staff which consists of the Chief Executive Officer and Secretary to the Commission, Harinarine Singh who is currently on leave, a senior clerical officer, a clerical officer, an office assistant and a receptionist.

When Stabroek News visited the office on Peter Rose Street, Queenstown to obtain information during the mid-afternoon in the middle of the week, only the office assistant was there.

There is also a handyman and cleaner, but they are part-time staff.

When contacted Singh told Stabroek News that the secretariat continues to receive complaints from members of the public but it was unable to conduct investigations because it has no investigative unit.

Filing returns

However, he said that all PPP/C parliamentarians and a number of senior public officers have been filing returns of their assets and liabilities and their income as required by the Integrity Act along with the AFC and GAP/ ROAR MPs and “a very few” PNCR MPs.

Singh said that the Office of the Integrity Commission completed its first report for the period 1999 to 2005 and submitted it to the President. The report, however, was not laid in parliament and according to Singh the President has the privilege of taking it to parliament if he wants to but he was not obligated to do so.

The commission came into being as a result of the Integrity Commission Act, 1997, No 20 and was assented to by then President Samuel Hinds. The first set of commissioners was appointed by former President Janet Jagan in 1999 with Bishop George as the first Chairman. He was subsequently reappointed by Jagdeo.

The re-appointment of the commissioners was a cause for concern to Leader of the Opposition Robert Corbin who took legal action in May 2005 to nullify the appointment of the Chairman and members of the commission, arguing that the President did not consult him, and that the appointments were made arbitrarily and unconstitutionally as they were in breach of the constitution which provides for the leader of the opposition “to express a considered opinion on the appointment of the Chairman and members of the Integrity Commission.”

Section 3(4) of the Integrity Commission Act 1997, stipulates that the “Chairman and other members shall be appointed by the President after consultation with the minority leader.” Bishop George, and Ferouz, Persaud and Hazel were named as the defendants. In October, 2004, Bishop George was reappointed Chairman. He resigned last year, some months after Corbin took legal action against the commission.

The writ of summons sought an injunction to restrain Bishop George and the other members of the commission from acting in their posts until the court proceedings were completed. The case has still not been heard.

Stabroek News was unsuccessful in obtaining an official comment from the Office of the President on the status of the commission, given the ramifications surrounding its operation at present, or the reasons for the non-implementation of the recommendations of the Fiduciary Oversight Study.

In brief comments on this issue, PNCR Chairman Winston Murray told Stabroek News that the Integrity Commission was not constituted in accordance with the laws of Guyana and as such the PNCR does not regard it as a body that was properly constituted.

“That is one of the reasons why it has problems of acceptability in the society at large,” he said, adding that, “This does not seem to bother the administration.”

The composition of the Integrity Commission, he continued, reminded him of the reappointment of the commissioners of the Ethnic Relations Commission in which the constitution was not being followed. “The President seems to be quite comfortable doing these things,” he said; “I wonder at what point Guyanese are going to awake to these atrocities that are occurring – these assaults to the integrity of our overriding instruments of law.”

Meanwhile on the same issue, AFC MP Sheila Holder said that the problem of the efficiency of the commission lies with the government’s inability to implement recommendations. “It is the same thing with the public service reform… everything comes to a halt because of government’s dilly-dallying, raising questions about the lack of good intent on the part of the administration.”

In addition, Holder reiterated that some of the problems in the operationalising of the commissions lie in “all kinds of excuses” which the PNCR puts up about finding “conflict with the constitution.”

Negotiating table

Emphasising that in her opinion the PNCR was taking these positions because it wants to bring the government to the negoti
ating table, she said that, “As long as the government encourages this attitude, and happily sits by and accuses the PNCR of being obstructionist, they too are party to the problem and are hell bent on the winner-take-all politics that has brought this country down to its current state.”

GAP-ROAR MP Everall Franklin feels that before the integrity commission could become functional there is need for reform of a number of institutions, including the enacting of Freedom of Information legislation and a strengthened judiciary so that when decisions are made they are not otherwise influenced.

Franklin feels that without these in place the integrity commission and other constitutional commissions would be toothless. He recommended that the proposals of the Fiduciary Study be acted on immediately, given the allegations of corruption against public officials that keep surfacing.

The study, which was also funded by the World Bank, concluded that the commission was under-resourced; had unclear focus; was largely ignored by the people who were required to report to it; and that a new group of four commissioners be appointed so that the commission would have real investigative capacity. In serious cases it recommended that the Audit Office deal with the investigations; that the number of office holders the commission covers be severely curtailed, limited to “perhaps 100/150 plus the MPs in the National Assembly”; that the commission be given an investigative staff of four persons, including one trained in police fraud-type work, among others.

It noted the government accepted the importance of strengthening the institution of oversight in Guyana and recognised that the commission could not undertake its tasks with the level of resources allocated to it.

The report said that the recommendations would need to be accompanied by other policy changes which fall outside the study’s terms of reference. These included overtime, remuneration of public officials with reasonable salaries to dissuade them from resorting to corrupt practices, the introduction of a code of conduct for the public sector and the introduction of a penalty regime to enforce anti-corruption measures in the law.

It suggested that the Office of the Auditor General be nominated as the liaison agency for the Integrity Commission and recommended that the responsibility for funding the commission be consistent with it being treated as an independent oversight agency of parliament and not as an agency of the Office of the President, and that implementation by the government should be in conjunction with the Speaker of the National Assembly.

It also recommended that the Integrity Commission only publish personal interest information on an annual basis but not the financial details of assets, liabilities and income. The declaration of public interests would cover sources of income, directorships held, bank accounts held, contracts with the state, family trusts, real estate owned, overseas travel undertaken and gifts received.

On the recommendation that the reporting body for the commission be transferred to the Auditor General’s Office, the report said it was for “reasons of perceived independence and similarity of function.”

Since the chair is the most crucial appointment, the report recommended that for the first term it should be a respected, recently retired chief executive experienced in managing a large organisation or business, who should work “two to three days per week”; and that the process of appointments needs to be agreed between the political parties.

The report said that the core weakness of the process of asset disclosure and the organisation responsible for this was that the commission was not seen as credible or independent. It was largely filling the role of a collection agency with virtually no investigative follow-up. Because of this the report said that the commission could not fulfil its promise of making a contribution to raising the ethical standards of public service in Guyana or reduce the opportunities for public office holders to act in an incorrupt way.

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