President still to meet with Integrity Commission

The planned meeting between President Bharrat Jagdeo and members of the Integrity Commission on Wednesday did not materialise as the president had requested information about the “status and functioning of the commission with regards to defaulters,” according to Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon.

Dr Luncheon was asked at his post-cabinet press conference yesterday if the president had the meeting with the members and he said there was no meeting but added that the requested information is being provided. At a press conference on Monday Jagdeo had put parliamentarians on notice that they would be expected to submit statements of income and assets to the commission within two weeks, in keeping with their lawful obligations. He said too that he would also urge the commission to publish the names of defaulting MPs in the national newspapers and request that the police charge defaulters in accordance with the law. He had announced that he would have been meeting with the members.

Meanwhile, while not naming the Alliance For Change (AFC) which has condemned the president’s move, Dr Luncheon said he had an issue with those “holier than thou” protestors to the president’s move who in the same breath are “asking, demanding… transparency and ending corruption in public offices.” He asked why would a “very fundamental and conventional step” that is embraced by most parliamentary democracies around the world become an issue. He described the president’s move as a “perfectly legitimate and lawful intervention.”

However under the Integrity Commission Act, while 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, charges for breaches of the law have to be instituted by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The AFC in a statement had denounced Jagdeo’s ultimatum to MPs and stated that he had overstepped his authority and ignored the law.

On Tuesday AFC Leader Raphael Trotman in the statement condemned the president’s call, saying that it signals that the executive has decided to impose its will on the legislative branch of the government. “Nowhere in the free world could the head of the executive branch issue ultimatums, threaten, and initiate criminal action against members of the legislature,” he said. “It is obvious that Jagdeo does not understand the sacred concepts of the rule of law and separation of powers, and needs to be enlightened accordingly, or has decided not to pay them any mind,” he emphasised.

The Integrity 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. But the body itself has been in limbo since its members were appointed in November 2004 as Opposition Leader Robert Corbin said he was not properly consulted in keeping with the law.

A suit challenging the legality of the appointments has been before the courts since 2005. Meanwhile, Chairman Bishop Randolph George submitted his resignation since April 2006, but it has never been acknowledged by President Jagdeo.

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