Before proceeding with today’s article, there were two news items that deserve brief commentary. First, the Kaieteur News reported that the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Natural Resources would be meeting to discuss the future of the Guyana Lottery Control Commission since there was no meeting of the Commission since July 2015. Readers may recall that around the same time, the latter, in his capacity as Minister of Governance, had announced that the proceeds of the “Lotto Fund” would be paid directly into the Consolidated Fund and that the Minister of Finance would issue the relevant order soon.
We felt that this was a welcome development and a victory for public accountability after 20 years of struggle to get the Government to recognize that the proceeds are public revenues which have to be paid over to the Consolidated Fund and that no expenditure can be incurred from such proceeds without Parliamentary approval. It, however, came as a disappointment that despite the assurance given, several projects, including the D’Urban Park Project, were funded from the Lotto Fund. One hopes that during the proposed meeting, due consideration is given to: (a) the closure of the special bank account into which the Lotto proceeds are deposited; (b) the dissolution of the Commission; and (c) having the operators, Canadian Bank Note, pay directly to the Accountant General the Government’s share of such proceeds for credit to the Consolidated Fund.
The second news item relates to the statement by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in which he indicated that the PAC would be looking more closely at other State institutions in the light of the damning reports emanating from the forensic audits of several State institutions. He also referred to recent procurement of drugs and medical supplies for the Georgetown Public Hospital, a corporate entity, which has been provided with a subvention since September 2015. The Chairman further stated that the PAC has the authority to request special audits and/or reports on specific problems which fall within the scope of its work. In this regard, it should be noted that all public corporations and all entities in which controlling interest vests with the State are required to have annual audited financial statements within six months of the close of the financial year, and for these statements to be laid in the National Assembly as soon as practicable by the concerned Ministers. Unfortunately, over the years, this requirement has been invariably honoured in the breach, and when the accounts were tabled in the Assembly, they were not referred to the PAC for detailed examination, in contrast to what prevails at the level of the central government.
Background to the Integrity Commission Act
The Integrity Commission Act was passed in 1997. It provides for the establishment of an Integrity Commission and for securing the integrity of persons in public life, consistent with the requirements of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption (IACAC) and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). The IACAC requires Member States to apply certain measures to create, maintain and strengthen standards of conduct for the correct, honourable and proper fulfillment of public functions. These standards are intended to prevent conflicts of interest and ensure the proper conservation and use of resources entrusted to government officials in the performance of their functions. A key requirement is the annual declaration of the income, assets and liabilities of persons who perform public functions in certain posts and, where applicable, for such declarations to be made public.
UNCAC requires Member States to develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability. It specifically refers to the establishment of a body or bodies to promote effective practices aimed at preventing corruption. These bodies should be granted the necessary independence to carry out their functions effectively, free of undue influence. They should also be provided with adequate resources, specialized staffing and relevant training.
Provisions of the Act
The Integrity Commission is to consist of a Chairman and not less than two or no more than four other persons appointed by the President after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. The Chairman must be a person who is or was, or who is qualified to be appointed, a Puisne Judge of the High Court, or any other fit and proper person. The other members are appointed from persons appearing to the President to be qualified as having had experience of, and showing capacity in, law, administration of justice, public administration, social service, finance or accountancy or any other discipline. Appointment, which may either be full-time or part-time, is for such period, not less than a year, as may be specified by the President. Members are also eligible for re-appointment. Three members of the Commission shall constitute a quorum. The Commission may employ a Secretary and such other persons required for the proper discharge of its functions, including the retention of the services of professional persons.
Before the 30th of June of each year, every person in public life, not being a member of the Commission, is required to make a declaration to the Commission, giving full, true and complete particulars of assets and liabilities as at the end of the preceding year and income for that year, including those of his/her spouse and children. In the case of members of the Commission, such declaration shall be made to the President. Where a person ceases to be a person in public life, he/she must make a declaration within 30 days of demitting office. Schedule I of the Act specifies the list of persons who are required to make a declaration to the Commission. This includes Ministers of the Government, other Members of the National Assembly and senior public servants. The Procurement Act provides for members of the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board, and Ministerial/Departmental and Regional tender boards to make similar declarations to the Commission.
Every person in public life at the commencement of the Act is required to make a declaration to the Commission within 30 days of the commencement of the Act. A similar arrangement pertains to a person who becomes a person in public life subsequent to the commencement of the Act. However, another declaration in the same year is not required.
The penalty for the failure to make a declaration to the Commission or to provide additional information requested by the Commission, is on summary conviction imprisonment of between six months and one year in addition to a fine of G$25,000. If the offence is non-disclosure, the magistrate shall order disclosure within a specified time, failing which an additional fine of G$10,000 is imposed for each day of non-compliance.
Schedule II of the Act establishes a Code of Conduct for all persons in public life. The Code relates mainly to the acceptance of money, property, benefits, and gifts; discriminatory conduct; private interest conflicting with public duties; the use of public property; and offensive sexual comments. Any breach of the Code will result, on summary conviction, in imprisonment of between six months and one year in addition to a fine of G$25,000.
Within three months of the close of the year, the Commission is required to submit to the President a report containing an account of its activities for that year and any difficulties, if any, experienced by the Commission in the performance of its functions. The report is also required to be laid in the National Assembly within 60 days.
Proposed amendment to the Act
Section 32 of the Act deals with reporting to the Commission of gifts received. Every person in public life who receives a gift worth more than G$10,000 shall make a report of that fact to the Commission, stating the name and address of the donor, the description and approximate value of the gift and whether, in the opinion of the donee, the gift is personal or a State gift. In any event, the Commission shall determine whether such a gift is personal or a State gift. The proposed amendment is the substitution of the words “a State gift or a symbolic gift” for “or a State gift”.
The proposed revised Code
The proposed revised Code of Conduct incorporates the ten principles in public life – accountability, dignity, diligence, duty, discrimination, gifts, conflict of interest, use of public property, sexual misconduct, and entertainment. Its main purpose is: (a) to assist Ministers and Members of Parliament and public office holders in discharging their obligations to their constituents and the public at large; and (b) to provide guidance on the values – the moral qualities – that should govern the conduct of these officials in all aspects of their public life.
The Code is meant to reinforce public confidence in the way these persons perform their duties by ensuring that they uphold the law, including the general law against discrimination and sexual harassment, and to act with propriety on all occasions in accordance with the public trust and confidence placed in them. They also have a general duty to act in the interests of the nation as a whole, and owe a special duty of care to their constituents, and citizens.
To be continued next week –