The President and the Integrity Commission

Following a series of letters to the newspapers by public communications specialist Kit Nascimento about senior members in government not being in compliance with the Integrity Commission law, President David Granger disclosed on Wednesday that he himself had not submitted his returns.

Answering questions from reporters at the credentials ceremony for the new Philippines Ambassador, President Granger said “I have written to them. I have not submitted all of my declarations. They are taking some time but I am in touch with them and the commission has heard from me”.

Asked later about some of his ministers also not complying with the law, the President said: “Yes I am concerned and as I pointed out …my own declaration is still being prepared and I do not have a reason why others have not been prepared but I have had some challenges over that period of time but I am actually working on it and the commission is aware of my interest in ensuring that they submit it as quickly as possible”.

To say that the President’s admission of his delinquency was shocking would be an understatement. It is unclear why there was a delay in his complying with the June 2018 deadline. After all, prior to entering office in 2015, the President led a relatively uncomplicated existence. Whether the non-submission of returns by the President was just a result of  carelessness or ambivalence towards the law, it has wider repercussions.

First, if there is non-compliance by the President with an important accountability and anti-corruption body like the Integrity Commission, it sends the message to all and sundry that their compliance is optional or at the very least one can be indifferent about it. The President’s failing is no example to a Cabinet with ministers, several of whom have had a series of ethical questions raised about their own conduct. How then can the President demand compliance by his ministers? How then can the President expect officials in the executive and other branches of government to comply? In a country where it is widely acknowledged that corruption continues to be a major problem, the President’s default sends a depressingly alarming signal about compliance with this and other laws. The President must seek to urgently remedy his failure to comply with the Integrity Commission Act, meet the requirements for the June, 2019 deadline and advise the public when he is in full compliance. 

Second, throughout his tenure, President Granger has tried sedulously to portray himself as a fastidious protector of the rule of law and a punctilious adherent to constitutional stipulations. This image had already begun to fray as a result of a series of missteps including not acting in accordance with Judicial Service Commission recommendations on judges, the unilateral appointment of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission despite the submission by the Opposition Leader of the names of worthy candidates in compliance with the constitutional requirement, callous remarks about judicial decisions and his refusal to recognise the constitutionality of the 33 to 32 no confidence vote in the National Assembly on December 21, 2018. His dereliction in relation to the Integrity Commission law adds to this list of acts which have undermined his stated commitment to the rule of law and constitutionalism.

Third, in a fractured and fraught society like modern-day Guyana where institutions which are meant to be watchdogs have been consistently under attack and eroded by successive governments, President Granger’s non-compliance will do further damage. The focus will now be on the Integrity Commission. What will it now do to defend its credibility?  Its Chairman, Kumar Doraisami has not been heard from since the disclosure of the continued delinquency by ministers of government and the acknowledgement by the President that he is also in default.

As noted by the Head of Transparency Institute Guyana Inc, Dr Troy Thomas  in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek, it is passing strange that President Granger was not listed among the defaulters in the very first list published by the Integrity Commission on November 10th, 2018. Why did it not include his name on that list or any of the subsequent lists?  Had it done so it would have struck a doughty blow for the independence and determination of institutions such as the Integrity Commission. Its failure to do this and also take action within the powers of its Act raises questions about whether it is fit for the job.

Under Section 22 of the Integrity Commission Act, the Integrity Commission is empowered to take measures against those persons who fail without reasonable cause to file returns. Reasonable cause should be construed as having some potent reason for not submitting returns or doing so late. The public needs to hear from Mr Doraisami and his commission on how many of the holders of the specified offices have not complied and why action has not been taken against them.

There is no doubt that after the resignation of Bishop George as  Chairman of the Integrity Commission in 2006 the PPP/C made no effort to have a properly functioning body up to the point it exited office in 2015. The now opposition party therefore has no credibility in this matter save for ensuring that those it has authority over act in compliance. Having taken two and a half years to  fully compose the Integrity Commission, this government has already left the image of the body in question by its casual approach to the submission of these very important declarations.

When he handed the members of the Integrity Commission their instruments of appointment on February 22, 2018, then Minister of State Joseph Harmon said “your assignment will be especially challenging as you seek to accomplish the aims and requirements of the act and the expectations of our citizens to demand the integrity of persons in public office”. How prescient.

Almost a year later, on February 20, 2019, the Integrity Commission held its inaugural press conference at which Mr Doraisami said that defaulters face legal action. Three months have passed. There has been no further word.

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