Jagdeo questions gov’t ‘secrecy’ over majority of CoI reports

-little info available on findings, action

Despite promises and the spending of millions of taxpayers’ dollars, the David Granger administration has failed to ensure the official release of most of the final reports of more than a dozen inquiries and this has been condemned by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo.

The non-release of the reports means that the public is unaware of the findings of the inquiries and the recommendations that have been made and the progress made by the administration in implementing the recommendations. It has also not been clear which entity or government functionary has been entrusted with the responsibility of addressing the findings and recommendations of the reports.

Bharrat Jagdeo

Nowhere has this been more glaring than in the case of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that had been set up into the March 3rd, 2016 fire that claimed the lives of 17 inmates at the Camp Street prison. That report was not released to the public. When the Camp Street prison was burnt to the ground by prisoners on July 9th this year, questions were asked about the recommendations from the 2016 inquiry. It turned out that several of the recommendations were not acted on, including those that addressed the overcrowding of the prison and the presence of dangerous prisoners.

“What is the big secrecy around holding these CoIs, which are fact-finding in nature, and then withholding their findings?” Jagdeo questioned, while criticising the government for failing to emulate its advocacy for transparency while in opposition.

Once complete, the reports from CoIs and Boards of Inquiry (BoIs) are supposed to be sent to Cabinet for review and subsequently to the National Assembly to be tabled. However, the final reports have been tabled from only two of the over one dozen inquiries that have been conducted, according to the records at the Parliament Office’s Library.

The completed inquiries relate to GuySuCo (2015), the Public Service (2016), the Georgetown Prison fire and deaths (2016), the Education System (2016), the Drop-in Centre fire and deaths (2016), the Condi-tions and Benefits of Veterans (2016), the circumstances which led to the collapse of a mining pit and death of Keon Wilson (2016), the allegations made by Barry Dataram against CANU et al (2016), the conflicts at the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (2016), allegations of improper procurement at the Ministry of Public Health (2016), the discovery of a foreign aircraft from Colombia near the village of Yupukari in Region Nine (2016), the interception and subsequent release of an unnamed private marine vessel in the sea space of Guyana between February 11 and 14, 2017 (2017) and the alleged plot to assassinate the president and how the police handled that investigation (2017).

An interim report was submitted for the Education System inquiry but no final report has been delivered, although the deadline has passed.

There was nothing to indicate that the other reports are being prepared for tabling. One inquiry, a CoI into lands, is still to be completed.

When questioned last Thursday, State Minister Joseph Harmon insisted that the reports have been handed over to the National Assembly and that once this was done an official release has occurred.

He said inquiry reports are released from time to time and when asked which ones have been released, he said that “all [the reports] of those inquiries have been sent to the National Assembly. Once it goes to the National Assembly, that is official.”

Observers, however, note that it is within the power of the executive to release the reports to the public and there is no requirement for them to be tabled in the National Assembly first.

The parliamentary library provided this newspaper with a list of all documents tabled in the National Assembly since the Granger government took office in May, 2015. A perusal showed that the reports of the Commission of Inquiry into Guyana Sugar Corporation- Volume 1, 2 and 3, were tabled on December 30, 2015 and the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Public Service of Guyana was tabled non May 24, 2016.

Most of the other reports were leaked to the media.

‘Released to the public’

Jagdeo referred Sunday Stabroek to a list of questions submitted to the National Assembly by Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira at the end of July.

Teixeira asked that Harmon explain the status of each of the CoIs, whether preliminary and final reports have been submitted and when they were submitted. She also asked the costs incurred with the conduct of each of the CoIs, including those, such as the inquiry into the attempted assassination of the President, which at the time was not completed, or those that were about to commence. The money paid to each commissioner is expected to be included in this response as well as when the reports of the completed CoIs will be made public and laid in the House.

It is expected that the answers to these questions will be available when the National Assembly resumes sitting next month.

Jagdeo stressed that there are provisions in the law which makes the release of CoI reports mandatory.

The Access to Information Act 2011 guarantees every citizen the right of access to information, requires government agencies and departments to publish documents and provides for the appointment of a Commissioner of Information to regulate data requests and releases.

Section 10 of the Act covers reports such as those produced at the end of a CoI. Part (1) (b) of this section refers to the release of “a report, or a statement containing the advice or recommendations, of a body or entity established outside the public authority under a written law, or by a Minister of Government or other public authority for the purpose of submitting a report or reports, providing advice or making recommendations to the public authority or to the responsible Minister of that public authority.”

A public authority according to the definition in the Act includes a Ministry or a department or division of a Ministry; Local Democratic Organs established under the Municipal and District Councils Act, Local Government Act, Local Democratic Organs Act; a Regional Health Authority established under the Regional Health Authorities Act 2005; a statutory body, responsibility for which is assigned to a Minister and a Constitutional Commission or any other Commission established by law

“I would urge people, if the government doesn’t want to release them, to use the… Act and request [them] from the Commissioner of Information,” Jagdeo stressed, while adding that the PPP/C will support any call made by the public to have the reports released, particularly since they were held at the expense of taxpayers.

Jagdeo said that if a person pays for a product they ought to receive it and said that in this case it is the public that is paying for the inquiries and therefore should be privy to the findings. He stressed that the reports are not protected by any form of secrecy legislation. “The law provides explicitly for them to be released to the public,” he stressed.

 

Legal options

Jagdeo said that the PPP is prepared to take legal action to force government to make the reports public but he stressed that any aggrieved citizen can take similar action if they so desire.

By his estimate, the inquiries have cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars. He told this newspaper that halfway through the GuySuCo CoI, government had already spent approximately $55 million. By the end of it, he suspected, in excess of $70 million was spent.

“… I think they probably spent upwards of maybe $400 million on these CoIs that they are not making public, so that’s why we are requesting the cost,” he said while adding that he is surprised at the number of inquiries held since the Granger administration took office in 2015.

“I think [they] are an excuse for [not] doing hard work. You create the impression that you are busy, you are busy addressing a problem by getting a couple of people to meet and study the problem,” he said.

According to Jagdeo, in many cases what is needed is action. “From past studies and general discussion, you then understand what the solutions are already without having to go through this complex process of all of these hearings, etc.,” he said.

He opined that there hasn’t been a public outcry because people are fed up. “People are weary, they are tired talking about these things with this administration… I think they [the public] have already concluded that they [the government] are not serious about the real issues affecting real people,” he stressed.

Jagdeo suggested that the inquiries allow government to remain in a “make believe world… to feel that they are solving problems [but] they are not. They are just wasting valuable taxpayers’ money.”

 

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