TIGI’s request for information and the Commissioner’s discourteous response

On 9 June 2014, the Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. (TIGI) wrote the Commissioner of Information requesting a copy of the contract between the Canadian firm and the Government of Guyana for the development of a custom-built automated financial management system. This was because TIGI learnt through the media that two of the seven modules of the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMAS) that was implemented in 2004, had not yet been activated.

Since these two modules – Purchasing; and Asset & Inventory – are perhaps the most important aspects of the Government’s financial management system, TIGI requested in the most respectful way that it be provided with a copy of the contract between the Canadian firm and the Government of Guyana.

20140325transparencyTIGI expected a similar courteous response from the Commissioner. However, we were taken back by the tone of the Commissioner’s response. The substantive part of the response reads as follows:

As you are aware, and it is assumed that your acute concerns are national and not partisan in nature, budgetary allocations for this Office have been excised from the Estimates for 2014. The foreseeable consequences of which need concern your Institute pari passu, with the effect it will have on the morale of the staff, production and productivity. Regrettably, therefore, your request, even if contemplated by the Act creating this Office, cannot be considered until such time that retroactive approval is given for resources to be made available to this Office. A rudimentary perusal of the aforementioned Act will inform you of a mandate conferred on no less a person than H.E. the President, to provide the Commissioner with the appropriate resources.

In the words of the famous calypsonian, Mighty Sparrow, “no money, no love”. No doubt, your Institute, if at all influential, could ameliorate the disastrous consequences visited upon workers in general.

The Directors of TIGI wish to comment on the Commissioner’s response as follows:

TIGI was incorporated in November 2010 under the Companies Act, Chapter 89:01 of the Laws of Guyana as a civil society non-profit organization to promote good governance, transparency and greater accountability as well as the eradication of corruption. Our Directors strive to uphold and practice highest moral and ethical standards and have the public interest at heart, as opposed to partisan interest. In fact, no Director is a member of any political party although TIGI’s Code of Ethics prohibits someone who holds a leadership position in a political party from becoming a member. TIGI is indifferent as to which government is in place and will continue to let its voice be heard on matters that are consistent with its mandate, notwithstanding efforts in some quarters to malign its Directors and the Institute as a whole.

It is true that the National Assembly did not approve of funds for the Office of the President under Programme 011 (Administrative Service) for 2014 under which the Commissioner receives its resources. However, the Minister of Finance went ahead and authorized the withdrawal of funds totalling $6.859 million for the Office of the Commissioner of Information for the period 1 January to 16 June 2014. This is evidenced by Financial Paper 1/2014 – Statement of Excess – that the Minister tabled in the Assembly on 19 June 2014. The response from the Commissioner suggesting that there was no funding for his Office, and his statement “no money, no love” are not only distasteful but are also misleading. Now that the question of funding for the Commissioner’s Office has been put to rest, it is our hope that the Commissioner will now address TIGI’s request.

The Commissioner referred to the morale of his staff as well as production and productivity being adversely affected. However, a perusal of the Estimates for 2014 does not indicate the level of staffing of the Commissioner’s Office. Financial paper 1/2014 indicates that amounts totalling $5.859 million relate to Employment Costs while the sum of one million dollars relates to Other Charges. TIGI would therefore be happy to learn about the level of resources made available to the Commissioner and how the morale of the staff has been adversely affected, having regard to the fact that the Minister had made funds available for the payment of salaries and to meet other costs.

The Commissioner has trivialised TIGI’s request in quoting the Mighty Sparrow, “no money, no love”. The Mighty Sparrow is an entertainer but TIGI is not in the business of entertaining. In addition, the Commissioner’s statement that “No doubt, your Institute, if at all influential, could ameliorate the disastrous consequences visited upon workers in general” smacks of arrogance. It also attempts to deprecate and disparage the work of the Institute whose existence is consistent with one of the key requirements of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (IACAC) and the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). Guyana is a signatory to both conventions. It is incumbent therefore upon the Commissioner to show a greater degree of respect and appreciation of the TIGI’s role as a civil society organization devoted to the promotion of good governance, transparence and greater accountability as well as the eradication of corruption. The failure to do so, and the Commissioner’s attitude to dealing with a simple request for a copy of a document raise serious questions about his suitability for the position. They also do a disservice to the Government’s commitment in adhering to the requirements of IACAC and UNCAC.

The Access to Information Act sets out a practical regime of the right for persons to secure access to information under the control of public authorities in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government and public authorities. Section 5(2) of the Act states that the Commissioner shall be a clearinghouse for processing requests and shall discharge the functions assigned to him under the Act. The attitude of the Commissioner raises also serious questions about his willingness to provide citizens with reasonable access to information on government programmes and activities.

The Act was passed in September 2011, just two months ahead of the national elections. However, the Commissioner was only appointed on 15 July 2013, almost two years later. In addition, seven months after he took up appointment, the Commissioner was yet to receive a request for information. No doubt, because of his attitude to a simple request for information from TIGI, citizens may very well be reluctant to approach his Office. If the Government is seriously committed to transparency and accountability in providing citizens with reasonable access to information, it may wish to re-consider whether the present Commissioner is the fit and proper person for the position.

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