MPs failing to disclose assets, income could face criminal charges

– Jagdeo gives two weeks notice

Urging full disclosure, President Bharrat Jagdeo has put Members of Parliament (MPs) on notice that they could face criminal charges if they fail to submit statements of income and assets to the Integrity Commission within two weeks.

Jagdeo told a news conference at State House that he would also urge the Integrity Commission to publish the names of defaulting MPs in the national newspapers. “…Whether they are PPP members, or PNC members or AFC members, we are going to publish the names of all of the people who have defaulted on the law and I am going to request the police to charge them in accordance with the act,” he said, while noting he would meet the commission on Wednesday.

The President’s comments were in response to a call by the main opposition PNCR for the widening of an ongoing forensic audit of customs workers to include among others, senior government officials and corrupt business people, who have acquired assets that bear no relationship to their incomes and earnings. Jagdeo expressed surprise at the statement when public officials are already required to declare their assets under the Integrity Commis-sion Act. In this regard, he noted that many of the PNCR MPs have not been complying with law and announced a two week-deadline for MPs to comply with the law.

Under the Integrity Commission Act, the President does have supervisory authority over the commission and is empowered to request information from declarants and to publish their names and to hold formal enquiries. However, charges for breaches of the law have to be instituted by the Director of Public Prosecu-tions. President Jagdeo has been calling for members of the opposition to make declarations to the commission for a while now, saying that if they want to be the champions of good governance and fight corruption their test was in adhering to the laws. The PNCR, however, is on record as saying that it does not recognise the legal authority of the current commission. In fact, party leader Robert Corbin filed a legal challenge against the appointment of the Chairman and members of the commission, saying that he was not consulted by the Head of State in keeping with the provisions of the Act. The case has been pending since 2005. Meanwhile, the party has publicly called for the body to be reconstituted, while accusing the government of taking advantage of its non-functioning.

Although the commission’s secretariat continues to function on a daily basis, with its main task being the collection of statements of income and assets from senior public officials and MPs, the body itself has been in limbo since its members were appointed in November 2004.

Commission Chairman Bishop Randolph George told Stabroek News yesterday that while he submitted his resignation since April, 2006, it has never been acknowledged by President Jagdeo.  As a result, he officially remains the Chairman. Although George said he is not actively involved in the work of the commission now, he believed that its members still meet periodically.

George, however, said that he did not want to be involved in the game of “political football” and for this reason he has tried to  have very little to do with the commission. He said that the legality of the body was being undermined by the PNCR’s legal action and that this had to be settled before the commission could effectively move forward. He was also adamant that he did not ever plan to be actively involved with the commission again. The remaining members of the body are: President of the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana Fazeel Ferouz, Secretary of the Guyana Council of Churches Nigel Hazel and Director of the National Commission for Family, Pandit Rabindranauth Persaud.

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