A Commission from the OAS Mechanism for Follow-Up on the Implementation of the Inter- American Convention against Corruption (MESICIC) will visit Guyana from October 8 to 10 and is likely to hear an earful from politicians and civil society groups.
This visit, for which the Government of Guyana gave permission, is a part of the review process that the Mechanism is carrying out.
According to an OAS statement yesterday, the Commission will be made up of representatives
from Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as from the Department of Legal Cooperation of the Secretariat for Legal Affairs of the OAS, in its capacity as the Technical Secretariat of the MESICIC.
It said that meetings are to take place with representatives from oversight bodies responsible for preventing, detecting and punishing corruption. The purpose of the meetings is to review the manner in which the Inter- American Convention against Corruption is being implemented in Guyana “and to provide first hand, objective and complete information for consideration of its national report, which will be adopted by the Committee of Experts of the MESICIC in a plenary meeting in March 2014.”
In addition, the Commission plans to meet with civil society organizations in the country to address the topics that are currently being reviewed in the Fourth Round of the Mechanism. “It will also provide an opportunity to address the implementation of the recommendations formulated in the First Round, in areas such as conflicts of interest, the reporting of acts of corruption, and systems for registering income, assets and liabilities,” the OAS statement said.
It noted that to date, the countries that have received on-site visits are Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Honduras, Panama, Chile, Uruguay, Colombia and Guatemala.
“The MESICIC is a cooperation mechanism between states, with the participation of civil society organizations, established within the framework of the OAS, in which the legal/institutional framework of each country is reviewed for suitability with the Inter-American Conven-tion against Corruption as well as the objective results achieved therein,” it said. “The incorporation of on-site visits as a stage and integral part of the MESICIC represents an innovative and pioneering initiative of the OAS, which, with the support of the Technical Secretariat, has further strengthened this review process,” it said.
Speaking to the Stabroek News last evening, Alliance for Change Leader Khemraj Ramjattan said that his party is going to welcome the visit by the OAS team and their subsequent report. “The AFC is going to welcome international scrutiny into our institutions and look at conflict of interest,” he said.
He noted that the AFC itself had been embroiled in a conflict of interest controversy over the connection that Chairman Nigel Hughes and his wife Cathy Hughes had with Sithe Global, the developer of the Amaila Falls Hydroelectric project. Ramjattan said that the best practices that the OAS team could recommend following their visit could be useful. He said that the idea of an audit is an important one since it is not known what the depth of corruption is in Guyana. He said that the visit should have been made earlier.
Ramjattan said it is important that when local persons speak about the need for transparency they are not chastised and demonised by the Government. He said that Government’s disregard for local opinions on transparency is one that he hopes the OAS team takes note of.
Ramjattan said too that he wants the team to take note of the National Assembly’s constrained power and control over the national purse, noting that Government took to the courts to elicit a determination that the National Assembly could not cut the budget. “We cut the money for the specialty hospital and they are still proceeding with it,” he said.
He added that he was pleasantly surprised that the Government has invited the OAS to do make visit but he said that all of the issues of concern to the Opposition must be examined.
Speaking to the Stabroek News, Leader of the Opposition and APNU David Granger said that while the visit is a welcome one, the MESICIC process is not one that is meant to be punitive.
“It is tied to Governments and it is not authorised to produce reports that grade Governments…Its value will be very limited,” said Granger. “We have no functioning Ombudsman, no Public Service Appellate Tribunal, no Public Procure-ment Commission and no strong Police Complaints Authority,” he said.
“Many of the agencies that are supposed to be autonomous do not have the support of the Government and therefore their autonomy is undermined,” he said. “The authority of the National Assembly is constrained by the reluctance of the President to [assent to Bills],” he said.
“The accountability of the Executive to the National Assembly is [not there]. These areas should be strengthened but the MESICIC is not so designed to grade Governments,” he said. “I do not see how the Government could be sanctioned if it does not meet [any of the requirements]. There is no enforcement,” he said.
Granger said that the visit is coming late and that it would have been better had they come before the House went into recess. He said however that the party will be giving its support to the team’s visit.
Declaration of assets
In a comment on the impending visit, President of Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc. Anand Goolsarran said that while he welcomes the visit by the OAS team, it is left to be seen how well Guyana’s evaluation will go. “This is now the fourth review and I am hopeful of meeting with the team,” said Goolsarran, a former Auditor General. “In June 2013 I did an evaluation of the extent to which Guyana has been compliant with the Inter-American Convention on Corruption,” he said. He added that a key element of the Convention is the declaration of assets and this could be a problem with the non-functioning of the Integrity Commission.
He said too that the Convention looks also at public procurement.
“We are falling short on the declaration of assets and on public procurement. The Convention also talks about government hiring and we may not score highly there either because of the high number of contract workers and the lack of transparency which surrounds their hiring,” he said.
Government Advisor Gail Teixeira, who also sits on the MESICIC review panel, said that Government is comfortable with the idea of the OAS team coming to undertake a site visit to Guyana with a view to reviewing the country in 2014.
“As a country which has ratified the Convention we are subject to review,” said Teixeira. “You are also allowed to have a lead expert that sits on the committee,” she said, noting that she has been that expert since 2008. “This is something we ratified, endorsed and are comfortable with,” she said. “We agreed to the dates [of the visit],” she said.
She said that during the on-site visit, the OAS team will meet with oversight bodies such as the Judicial Service Commission, the Public Service Commission, the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board and the Commissioner of Information. She said too that the team will be meeting with local civil society bodies, among them Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc.
“They look at your laws and systems,” she said of the OAS team. “They won’t investigate specific charges of corruption.”
An OAS committee over five years ago had urged the Government of Guyana to see to the establishment of the Public Procurement Commis-sion to ensure transparency in the procurement of goods and services. The Government of Guyana has failed to comply with this and other recommendations of the committee, including a database of contractors and their record of performance or non-performance.
It also called for the sanctioning of Government officials who infringe procurement rules. Further, the non-passage of effective anti-money laundering legislation could possibly have an impact on Guyana’s readiness to combat corruption as envisaged by the Convention.