MPs answerable to Integrity Commission, not President -AFC

Gov’t slammed over stalled reforms
The AFC is maintaining that Members of Parliament (MPs) are answerable only to the Integrity Commission and not to the President of Guyana.

The opposition party in a press statement yesterday asserted that the President “has no legal authority to compel, or threaten the institution of charges against any public official other than the Commissioners themselves.”

President Bharrat Jagdeo earlier this month issued an ultimatum to parliamentarians when he said at a press conference that he would urge the Integrity Commission to publish in the national newspapers the names of those MPs who did not submit their declarations within two weeks, and request that the police charge defaulters in accordance with the law.

“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,” Jagdeo had said.
Earlier the  PNCR had called for the forensic audit ordered for  customs officials to be expanded to include senior government functionaries and corrupt business people who had acquired assets unrelated to their incomes.

The AFC said it has obtained independent legal advice on the Integrity Commission Act of 1997 and the powers, if any, that the President of Guyana has over the Commission and public officials as defined in the Act.

“We have been advised that the Commission was intended to operate independently from the influence of any person including the president of the Republic. This is clearly stated in Section 8 (3) of the Act which makes it pellucid that “in the exercise and discharge of its functions, the Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.”
Section 13 of the Act, the AFC noted,  creates the statutory obligation for public officials, including Members of Parliament, to file declarations of their assets. It is this Section which delineates the functions of the Commission and that of the President of the Republic.

The AFC noted further that Section 13 states that public officials shall file with the Commission a declaration … and each of the Members of the Commission shall file with the President similar declarations.
Therefore, the AFC stated, it is clear that the President has jurisdiction, or legal authority, only over members of the Commission and his authority is limited to them only.

The party quoting from the Act noted that “(1) every person who is a person in public life, not being a member of the Commission, shall – a)each year, on or before such date as may be specified by the Commission with reference to that year; and b) where such person ceases to be a person in public life, within thirty days from the date on which the person ceases to be a person in public life, file with the Commission a declaration containing the particulars referred to in subsection (4) with reference to the relevant date; and each of the members of the Commission shall file with the President similar declarations on or before the dates on which such declarations are required by other persons in public life.”

The AFC argued further that the wording of Section 18 which speaks of requests reinforces this point when it states “The Commission or President,  as the case may be, may request a declarant to furnish such further particulars …”

The words “as the case may be” are intended to mean that if the public officials fail to provide their information then the Commission may request that they do, and if the Commissioners themselves fail to file then the President is the person who may require them to make their declarations, the AFC stated.

According to the party, the President and the Government of Guyana are well aware that the Integrity Commission was in crisis years ago and that a study was commissioned to make recommendations. The understanding, the AFC said, was that “the Commission was broken beyond repair and had to be reinvented.”

The AFC recalled that the New Zealand consultancy firm Bradford & Associates had submitted 11 specific recommendations, which the Government of Guyana had indicated to the World Bank it would adopt, and went as far as submitting an Action Plan for implementation of these recommendations in 2006.

However the recommendations made in 2006 are still not implemented, the AFC pointed out.
According to the party, it was recommended that there should be a move to a disclosure regime that requires collection of both personal asset financial data, plus a declaration of personal interest. It was recommended too that there should be publication of Personal Interest Information on an annual basis but not financial details of assets.

And reduction of the number of public office holders that are required to submit returns; that the disclosure regime of MPs should be managed by a registrar in the Clerk of Parliament’s Office; and there should be agreement that the disclosure regime of public servants, office holders of State agencies, and key executives of RDCs be managed by the Integrity Commission were among the other recommendations.

The consultancy firm also recommended that the Commission should be expanded along the lines of the Trinidad and Tobago Commission to take on four roles: Prevention, Investi-gation, Enforcement and Enlistment of Public Support.

In addition, it was advised that a new group of four Commissioners should be appointed with experience in chartered accountancy, judicial office, governmental administration and business management. And the appointment of the Commissioners should be carried out by the Parliamentary Appointments Committee.

It was recommended too that on appointment, the new Chair should spend time with the Trinidad and Tobago Commission to understand their systems, their education programmes and the business plan that it has prepared, while the Office of the Auditor General should be nominated as the liaison agency for the Integrity Commission.

Another of the specific recommendations was that the responsibility for funding the Commission be consistent with it being treated as an independent oversight agency of Parliament and not an agency of the Office of the President, the AFC observed.
“It is now for the Government to state to the nation why after agreeing to these 11 changes it has failed and/or refused to implement them since 2006,” the AFC said.

Meanwhile, the party disclosed that as of January 28 “AFC Members of Parliament have begun receiving packages from the Integrity Commission in the proper manner, and as before, we will be submitting our declarations accordingly.”

But the party expressed one major concern, stating that its only expectation “is that the information we submit will be treated with the strictest confidentiality and not become part of an ongoing political witch-hunt by the Office of the President and other state agencies.”

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