Code of Conduct amendments gazetted

The first guiding principle of the recently gazetted Integrity Commission (Amend-ment of Code of Conduct) Order 2017 states that a person in public life shall be accountable to the public for his or her decisions and actions and “shall submit himself or herself to scrutiny and criticism.”

This is one of the ten guiding principles that form part of the proposed amended Act, which will now have to go to the National Assembly before it becomes law.

The gazetting of the amendments come over one year after a reworked version of the draft code of conduct, meant to regulate both the public and private lives of public officials, including ministers and members of parliament, was handed over to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo by Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman.

The code, which was promised in the coalition government’s first 100 days, was first drafted by Trotman in his capacity of Minister of Governance months after the government took office. Nagamootoo later asked Trotman to chair a committee, which included attorneys Dela Britton, Simone Morris-Ramlall and Tammy Khan, among others, to review the draft.

He handed over the “reworked” draft, which benefited from two submissions from members of the public to the Prime Minister in May of last year and he had indicated then that it would be incorporated into the Integrity Commission legislation.

Under the proposed amended Act the qualities of dignity, diligence, duty, honour, integrity, loyalty, objectivity, responsibility and transparency are covered.

Private interests

As it relates to integrity it states that a person in public life and members of his/her family shall upon assumption of office declare their private interests relating to the duties of the public official, and assets as required by the Integrity Commission and any other law.

Under the heading “integrity” in the draft code, it was stated that “Public office holders have a duty to declare any private interest relating to the discharge of their duties and responsibilities, and to ensure that their personal decisions and actions are not in conflict with the national interest.” It was the review committee that had recommended that private interests and interests required by law must be declared and interests should be related to the discharge of duties at the time of entry into office.

The Guyana Human Rights Associa-tion, one of the organisations that had made submissions to the draft had criticized this aspect, which it labelled as “too bland and generalized”, since it made no reference about the declaration of assets.

“Only by reference to the requirements of the Integrity Commission contained under this principle can any inference be drawn about assets. While legally this may be acceptable, the absence of explicit reference to this issue is peculiar, because in the public mind it is the raison d’etre of a Code of Conduct,” the human rights body had said in a statement last year.

The government has stuck to this format as the declaration of assets is only tied to the Integrity Commission and other laws.

Meantime, Article 1 of the proposed amended Act states that no persons in public life shall, in return for anything to be done, or omitted to be done in the execution of his or her duties, ask for or accept for himself or herself or any person, any money, property, benefit or favour of any kind over or above that which he or she is lawfully entitled to receive for the performance of his or duties.

And the recommendation by the review that the code aligns with the current law, which provides that gifts worth in excess of $10,000 be reported to the Integrity Commission was not included in the proposed amended Act.

Rather, it states under Article 3 that deals with gifts, that no person in public life shall for himself or herself or for anyone else accept any gift, benefit or advantage from anyone, “save personal gifts from a relative or friend, or personal gifts given otherwise than as a motive or reward for doing or forbearing to do anything in the performance of his or of his or her official functions or causing any other person from doing or forbearing to do anything..” The provision does not apply to gifts received on behalf of the state by any person in public life in the course of the performance of his or her official functions.

Conflict of interest

It was also recommended by the committee that provision must be made for the inclusion of a definition for “conflict of interest” and this could be drawn from the Tasmanian and Trinidadian codes.

Further, it is also recommended that gambling not be isolated but captured in a clause that stipulates the kind of conduct required in private life.

The proposed amended Act states that for the purposes of the code a conflict of interest arises where a public official makes or participates in the making of a decision in the execution of his or her office and at the same time knows or ought reasonably to have known, that in the making of that decision, there is a material beneficial opportunity either directly or indirectly to further his or her private interests or that of a member of his or her family or any other person or entity.

Under this Article it is stated that no person in public life shall allow private interest to conflict with his or her public duties or improperly influence his or her conduct in the performance of his or her public duties; and allow the pursuit of his or her private interests to interfere with the proper discharge of his or her public duties.

In the draft code it was stated that ministers, members of parliament and public office holders “must not engage in frequent or excessive gambling with persons who have business dealings with the government as well as among colleagues, particularly with subordinates.” It added, “If on social occasions where refusal of gambling (provided that the activity is legal) is considered unsociable, the amount of money involved should not be significant. Gambling in the government’s premises, government venues, and locations where activities of the government take place is strictly forbidden.”

However, in the proposed amended Act, gambling is not dealt with specifically. Rather, Article 9 which deals with entertainment, states that no person in public life shall accept lavish or frequent entertainment from persons or entities with whom the government has, or is likely to have official dealings. Entertainment includes invitations to sporting events and concerts.

Proprietary information

In the draft code, it was stated that officials and staff are not allowed to disclose any classified or proprietary information to anyone without prior authorisation by the government. Officials and staff who have access to or are in control of such information should at all times provide adequate safeguards to prevent its abuse or misuse, it further stated. “Examples of misuse include disclosure of information in return for monetary rewards, or use of information for personal interest or business benefit. It should also be noted that unauthorised disclosure of any personal data may result in a breach of the personal data,” the draft said. The review committee subsequently recommended that the provisions be restructured and that the minister be assigned with the responsibility of implementing the safeguards. Under the heading of government resources, which dealt with the misuse of such resources for personal gains or for political purposes, it was recommended that new provisions be installed guided by the Tasmanian Code and the original section be replaced.

In the Act under Article 6 that deals with the handling of classified or proprietary information it states that no person in public life shall for his or her person advantage, benefit or gain, make use of, or communicate to anyone except in the performance of his or her official duties, the contents of any document, or any information or matter acquired in the course of his or her official duties which are not available to the public.

Public officials are also barred from disclosing to any unauthorized person or entity any information that is classified as privileged, confidential or otherwise protected from unauthorized disclosure, dissemination or distribution.

Public officials are also directed that except with the written consent of the relevant authority, they shall not engage in outside employment.

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