Proposed code for ministers, public officials is rubbish, Jagdeo says

-questions legality of changes to integrity law

While government yesterday said that it was awaiting input from the opposition on finalizing a code of conduct for government ministers, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo dismissed the proposals as “crap.”

“I am not going to treat it with any respect. The same disrespect they had for us in drafting this crap, the same we will afford them,” Jagdeo told a press conference yesterday at Freedom House, Georgetown.

Jagdeo shared with the press correspondence received from Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo on the matter and noted that government is seeking to lump the code of conduct with the integrity commission law without consultations and is now asking the opposition to accept it.

Bharrat Jagdeo

However, he dismissed the request as he criticized aspects of the proposed amendments, which he believes were designed to give more power to the executive, while charging that some parts were in violation of the law. Specifically, he said, it would give Minister of State Joseph Harmon the powers to dismiss any member of parliament he believed violated the Act.

Jagdeo also charged that government wanted to “destroy the Integrity Commission” because it does not want to be held accountable for actions provided for under the Act.

“After promising the nation that this would be the first act were they to win power …strengthen the Integrity Commission…they are further trying to create a veneer that somehow they are strengthening the Integrity Commission by coming up with this farcical code of conduct ,” Jagdeo stated.

“The prime minister wrote me seeking to have the integrity commission law amended with the purpose of not strengthening the accountability provisions…but to undermine it by including now giving the president executive authority to go after people. He now has powers under the Integrity Commission Act that he never had. In the past, he had only where the Integrity Commission reported to him and that report should be made public. The Minister of State, Mr Harmon, will now have executive authority under the Integrity Commission Act. And both are subjects of the Act, so who will discipline the President when he violates the provisions of the Act?” he questioned.

Specifically, Article 12 of the proposed Code of Conduct states:

“(1) The authority for ensuring the observance of the provisions of this Code shall rest with the President in the case of the Vice-Presidents or Ministers, and the Minister of State in the case of other persons in public life.

“(2) A person in public life may be removed from office when he or she contravenes any of the provisions in this Code.”

But Harmon said the Prime Minister sent the document to get feedback from not only the opposition but civil society. However, up to yesterday morning, government did not get a response from either side.

The document was also sent to the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) and the Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc (TIGI). The GHRA has said publicly that the revised draft code is “too bland and generalized” and fails to make explicit reference about the declaration of assets.

“These comments will go basically to the office of the Prime Minister and as of this morning there was none. Since we came into office in May of 2015, His Excellency the President provided a document for ministers called the ministerial code of service, which by a large measure is captured in the code of conduct …this was one of the first documents produced and basically… was meant to assist members of the National Assembly to their constituents and the public at large,” he noted.

Jagdeo is not buying government’s explanation and said that he has rejected the document. “Harmon is now responsible for Members of Parliament and others. A person in public life may be removed …so you are giving Harmon the power to dismiss Members of Parliament. It is illegal. It creates the impression that they are strengthening the integrity but what they are doing is transferring powers to the executive,” he posited.

He said that he has in the past pointed out “how many ministers are already in breach” of the Integrity Commission Act but there is no action. “I pointed out at that time that we had already seen in Parliament them voting to not make public the declarations to the Integrity Commission. I pointed out the reason for that …because many of them had never made their declarations to the Integrity Commission, which is contrary to the law; an offence you can go to jail for,” he said.

Harmon responded by saying that allegations of breaches by ministers impugns their characters but cannot be acted upon from informal comments. He said that if Jagdeo or any member of the public had information against a minister, they should formally make those concerns known.

“If the Leader of the Opposition or anybody for that matter has information which seeks to impugn the character of a minister, then they should in fact send something in writing to the government. You do not expect the Leader of the Opposition to go on television and rant and rave and a minister would be called in. If, in fact, you have information, then write and say ‘This is information available to me’ and we can answer it,” Harmon said.

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