Ministerial Accountability and Responsibility, and the Code of Conduct

We had refrained from any commentary on the recent incident involving a sitting Minister of the Government, to allow for the police to carry out their investigation. Since the investigation has been concluded, we consider it appropriate to now do so, more especially in the light of the revised Code of Conduct for public officials that was gazetted on 13 June 2017.

On 8 July 2018, Minister in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Simona Broomes went to the New Thriving Restaurant at Providence, East Bank Demerara to purchase food. She claimed that she and her driver were verbally assaulted by two security officers who attempted to prevent her vehicle from being parked in a “No Parking” zone. The Minister alleged that one of the officers had pointed a gun at her and her driver. Fearful of her life, she reported the incident to the police who arrested, detained the officers and incarcerated them for 16 hours.

A review of the CCTV footage indicated that the Minister and her driver did not appear to take kindly to being told that the vehicle could not be parked in the specified area. The driver was seen stepping out of the vehicle and removing the signs which were put back in position by one of the officers. The Minister then exited her vehicle and began to throw the signs on the ground, and her driver moved the vehicle forward almost hitting one of officers who stood in front of it. The driver then stepped out of the vehicle again, and another exchange followed. The footage showed no evidence of any of two officers pointing a gun at the Minister or her driver.

The police investigated the incident; recommended no charges be laid; and revoked the firearm licence of one of the officers (via the security service) because he had a criminal record. One would have thought that a full report would have been released to the public, considering that a high public official was involved. However, this was not to be.

Based on the CCTV footage of the incident and in the absence of any information to the contrary, we believe that the Minister’s actions on the day in question breached several aspects of the Code of Conduct. We were told that the Cabinet discussed the matter, the outcome of which, regrettably, was not made public. It could be that she was reprimanded verbally. As one letter writer suggested, the Minister should have done the honourable thing by acknowledging that her behaviour was inappropriate and making amends by going back to the venue and talking matters over with the security officers in question. It was left to the Minister of Public Health to do so. 

We now turn to the revised Code of Conduct which is an integral part of the Integrity Commission Act under Schedule II.

Code of Conduct for Public Officials

The Code incorporates the ten principles in public life under the following headings: accountability, dignity, diligence, duty, honour, integrity, loyalty, objectivity, responsibility and transparency. Its main purpose is to:

(a)  assist Ministers, Members of Parliament and other public office holders in

      discharging their obligations to their constituents and the public at large; and

(b)  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 persons in public life perform their duties by ensuring that they uphold the law and 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 interest of the nation and owe a special duty of care to their constituents and citizens.

The following are the ten principles. A person in public life:

1.  Shall be accountable to the public for his or her decisions and actions and shall

     submit himself or herself to scrutiny and criticism. (Accountability)

2.  Shall, in the execution of his or her official functions, conduct himself or herself in a      manner that is worthy of the respect of his or her peers and the public. (Dignity)

3.  Is expected to be effective, efficient, and reliable in the performance of his or her   

     duties.  (Diligence)

4. Owes a duty to the public and shall consider himself or herself a servant of the  

    people.  (Duty)

5.  Shall regard it as an honour to serve in the nation’s highest legislative forum as a

     Member  of Parliament. He or she has a moral responsibility to preserve the

      reputation of his or her  office. (Honour)

6.  Shall declare any private interest relating to the discharge of his or her duties and       responsibilities and ensure that this or her personal decisions and actions are  not

      in  conflict with the national interest. (Integrity)

7.  Shall display allegiance to the State and shall show concern for the wellbeing of 

      the  persons that he or she was elected to represent. (Loyalty)

8.  In carrying out public business, shall make decisions based on merit when making

      public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for

      rewards and benefits.  (Objectivity)

9.  Shall have a basic responsibility to take decisions only in the national interest void

     of any  forms of personal gain, or other material benefits for themselves, their

     family or their friends. (Responsibility)

10.  Shall be open about all his or her public decisions and actions and be prepared to

       provide explanations when so demanded by the public. (Transparency)

Included with the Code are eleven articles relating to: soliciting/acceptance of bribes; discrimination; acceptance of gifts; conflict of interest; use of official influence; handing of classified or proprietary information; use of public property; sexual misconduct; acceptance of entertainment; use of office in an improper manner; and outside employment. For the purpose 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 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.

Breaches of the Code

By Section 27(2) of the Integrity Commission Act, any person in public life who is in breach of any of the provisions of the Code of Conduct shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine of G$25,000 and to imprisonment for a period of between six months to one year. However, a complaint has to first be made to the Commission which shall determine whether to proceed with an investigation.  Once it decides to do so, the hearing is held in public. At the conclusion of the inquiry, a report is submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), if the Commission considers it necessary. A copy of the report is submitted to the President.

Where the DPP is satisfied, based on the evidence presented, that the person in public life ought to be prosecuted for the offence committed, it shall initiate action to bring about criminal charges against the person.

TIGI’s Criticisms of the Code

The Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc (TIGI) had raised several concerns when the draft Code of Conduct was circularized for comments. One such recommendation relates to penalties for specific breaches by Ministers and other officials to be incorporated within the Code, instead of the President (in the case of Ministers) and the Minister of State (in the case of other public officials) being identified as having responsibility for administering the Code. This requirement was deleted from the final version of the Code no doubt because it conflicts with Section 28(1) of the Act which vests with the Commission the responsibility for investigating complaints. Even so, the Commission has no powers to institute disciplinary action in the of absence specific reference in the Code and can only refer any perceived breach of the Code to the DPP.

TIGI had also recommended that Section 28(3) of the Act, which it described as a “terror clause”, be reviewed as it provides a deterrent against anyone trying to bring a complaint to the Commission, regardless of how justified it may be in the opinion of the complainant. That section provides that anyone who makes a complaint that is frivolous, mischievous or spiteful, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of G$25,000 and to two months’ imprisonment; and the nature of the complaint shall be published in a daily newspaper at the expense of that person.

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