Revealing that approximately 430 out of 1400 declaration forms sent out have been returned thus far, Chairman of the Integrity Commission, Kumar Doraisami yesterday said that errant public officials will be given two months more to declare their assets before legal action is taken.
“…we had to take the step of publication and if they don’t fully comply within the next two months, we will have to take steps to prosecute. They must comply with the law,” Doraisami said during a visit to the Commission’s office by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo.
Nagamootoo toured the Church Road, Subryanville location after being invited to do so by the Commission.
According to the Chairman, prior to the commencement of the publication of names of errant public officials in the newspapers and in the Official Gazette, the Commission was in receipt of about 300 declaration forms from those sent out. “So we have some improvement,” he stressed after revealing that an additional 130 forms were received.
Stabroek News inquired whether forms were sent to all the public officials who needed to declare their assets and Doraisami acknowledged that it is possible that some did not get. Observing that 1400 forms were sent out, he said that “we haven’t actually reviewed the entire list as yet.” He stressed though that these officials have a duty to submit, once they are specified in the schedule of the Act. Some of the officials included in the first list published in the press have alleged that they did not receive a form.
“It’s not whether you want to submit or not. You must submit. The law requires you to submit,” Doraisami said.
In accepting that the submission figure is less than half, the Chairman pointed out that people are getting to understand now that they must follow the law. In direct reference to parliamentarians, he pointed out that most of the people who made the law, are yet to comply with it.
According to Doraisami, up until now, only 47 out of 65 parliamentarians have declared their assets and liabilities. “This is not something that people should take lightly. A law was established and we must follow the law. Moreso the parliamentarians, they were the ones who made the law and they must comply with the law so we will take all steps to make sure that they comply,” he stressed.
He said that the only challenge at the moment is that “declarants are not actually submitting their declarations. Some of them because of publications in the newspaper …they are somehow submitting their documents now. It is not too late to do that.”
He said that if public officers want the Commission to secure their integrity, they must file their declarations with the body.
The Chairman said too that the Commission is looking to hire more technical persons which will boost their staff complement, along with five investigators. Despite budgetary constraints which have played a significant role in the less than ideal staff complement, he expressed hope that by January, the Commission will be able to function fully.
Meanwhile, Nagamootoo while emphasising that he was not trying to make an excuse for anyone, said that the process of declaring assets is new. “It was set up under a law that was brought into existence in 2001 and for nine years though a Commission was established, the Commission didn’t function. The…Commission since 2006 didn’t function …,” he said.
The Prime Minister said that the government after taking office in 2015, tried to modify the existing law governing the Commission.
Nagamootoo agreed that integrity in public life has “taken a beating” in Guyana. He expressed the opinion that schooling people on how to declare their assets will be a challenge. According to him, people may not want to declare their assets for fear of being investigated regarding how they got their wealth and the possibility that they may be subjected to their earnings being scrutinised.
He later expressed the view that the law needs to be further amended to allow within it, the right of the Commission to “retain an investigative arm and a prosecutorial arm so that…you have an in-house team that will go and look at the declarations.”
The Prime Minister added that the declarants should be given time and be allowed to seek guidance from accountants and other professionals. “At the same time, there should be no penalty for someone who had not made a disclosure that was full,” he said, opining that maybe at the time of the disclosure being made, they maybe had not thought about the complete disclosure.
He said that a team will have to be in place at the Commission to search through the declarations and inform declarants “where they fall short, where is the deficiency and encourage them …to make full disclosure of all the incomes and assets, in Guyana, outside Guyana …all over the world. If you have properties all over the world, declare. There is no problem, there is no harm in declaring. There is harm if you refuse to declare or you elude the process required by law to make these declarations.”
The Commission’s secretary Amanda Jaisingh led the tour of the building, which lasted for just under half an hour. On the ground floor is a kitchen, an area being set up for a permanent conference room, and office space for several staff members. Included on the upper flat is a temporary boardroom, office space for the secretary as well as a filing room and a computer room where all confidential material will be stored. These two very important rooms will be “very secure,” Jaisingh assured.
The other commissioners, attorney Rosemary Benjamin-Noble and Pandit Rabindranath Persaud were also a part of the tour.
A security guard is posted at the location.
According to the Integrity Commission Act, every person who is a person in public life, not being a member of the Commission, is required to file a declaration every year on or before June 30th and in cases where such persons cease to be a person in public life, within 30 days from the date on which the person ceases to be a person in public life.
“A declaration under subsection (I) or (2) shall give full, true and complete particulars of the assets and liabilities as on the relevant date, and the income during a period of twelve months immediately prior to the relevant date, of the person filling the declaration (whether the assets were held by that person in his own name or in the name of any other person) and of the spouse and children of such person to the extent to which such person has knowledge of the same,” it further states.
The Act states that the Commission or the President, as the case may be, shall receive, examine and retain all declarations and documents filed with it or him under the Act; and make such enquiries as it or he considers necessary in order to verify or determine the accuracy of the financial affairs, as stated in the declarations of persons who are required to file declarations under the Act.
It states that those officials who fail to submit their declarations or submit declarations that are false or incomplete shall be liable, on summary conviction, to “a fine of twenty-five thousand dollars and to imprisonment for a term of not less than six months nor more than one year, and where the offence involves the non-disclosure, by the declarant, of property, which should have been disclosed in the declaration, the magistrate convicting the person shall order the person to make full disclosure of the property within a given time and on failure to comply with the order of the magistrate within the given time, the said offence shall be deemed to be a continuing offence and the person shall be liable to a further fine of ten thousand dollars for each day on which the offence continues.”
Three lists have already been published. The first was published in November. The first contained 87 names, inclusive of 15 ministers, the Speaker and opposition Members of Parliament. The second, which was published shortly after, contained the names of 80 defaulting Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) officials and the third, which was published on December 8th, included the names of errant regional officials in all ten administrative regions.
Doraisami told Stabroek News two Fridays ago that more names will be published. He had said too that a large percentage of the public officials who have so far submitted declarations of their assets and liabilities, will soon be asked to submit additional particulars.