Calls should be made for Integrity Commission to enforce Section 22 on penalties for officials who don’t submit declarations

Dear Editor,

Although I support calls for relevant public officials to submit declaration of assets to the Integrity Commission by June 30, every year, in accordance with the 1997 Integrity Commission Act and the 2017 Code of Conduct Amendment, I think the matter appears to be devolving into a political, perhaps personal, tug-o-war among certain individuals in the public arena.

Mr. Kit Nascimento’s letter calling for public officials to resign for failing to submit their declarations, (“All those in gov’t positions who are required to submit declarations to Integrity Commission should do so or resign,” SN, May 21, 2019), misses a critical need to focus attention of the Integrity Commission and not merely public officials.

Not that I don’t support calls for Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan to submit his declarations, but while Minister Bulkan is not the only public official yet to declare, regardless of his excuses or reasons, the Integrity Com-mission Act really makes no provision for resignation as a penalty for failing to declare.

More on that point later, but on November 11, 2018, Stabroek News carried a news article, “Integrity body names 87 officials who failed to declare assets,” with a strap-line that stated 15 ministers, the House Speaker and Opposition MPs among the defaulters. A list of the 87 names was actually published.

On April 6, 2019, Kaieteur News reported, “Integrity Commission receives over 500 declarations from officials…but has no funds to hire investigative officers.” Over 600 declarations were still outstanding.

The article continued that the Integrity Commission Act required the President to declare his assets, but when Kaieteur News asked the Commission Chairman if President David Granger had filed his declaration records, the Chairman astonishingly declined to say, even though the same Commission has been in the habit of publishing names of other officers who have been delinquent.

When the Chairman was pressed to say if he was prevented from making that information on the President known, the Chairman replied, “No, but it would not be appropriate from the Chairman to release that type of information to the public.”

To his credit, the Head of the Guyana chapter of Transparency International told Kaieteur News the next day (April 7) that the declarations by both the President and Opposition Leader should be made public. But what was alarming to note was the cavalier contradiction by the Integrity Commission that protects the President but exposes other officials.

This is why, rather than go after public officials alone, public pressure should be brought to bear on the Integrity Commission and let us see whether the problem is really with the Commission in executing its duties and enforcing penalties, per Section 22 of the Act. The Integrity Commission, in my opinion, is searching for its legs after finally breathing on its own in 2018.

So, contrary to Mr. Nascimento’s call for public officials who fail to declare assets to resign, I think calls should be made for the Integrity Commission to step up its game and enforce Section 22 of its Act, which outlines the penalties for those who fail to comply with both the annual June 30 requirement and or follow-up requests.

In fact, let us also be fair and recognize that, although the Integrity Commission Act was passed into law in 1997 and there was the 2017 Code of Conduct Amendment, the Commission had been largely dormant, if not inoperable, under the PPP governments of Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar.

Back on January 20, 2009, then President Jagdeo was reported as demanding all MPs declare their assets within two weeks or face the courts. On January 27, 2009, then President Jagdeo reportedly ‘granted MPs an extension’ to declare their assets (source Kaieteur News).

The 2009 references were made here to not only show how the Integrity Commission was a toothless tiger, but how then President Jagdeo usurped the Commission’s role (he did the same thing as CLICO’s de facto spokesman when that insurance company collapsed on January 30, 2009) with his public declarations and instructions. The Integrity Commission was rendered a meaningless political appendage of the executive branch under the PPP, but I can’t recall any letter from Mr. Nascimento bemoaning this behaviour.

When KN reported on October 16, 2018, “Jagdeo admits to failing to declare assets to Integrity Commission,” Jagdeo reportedly argued that, “When we (the PPP) were in office, we made sure that every Minister did (file) up to 2014.” Yet it was the Commission Chairman, who reportedly also said on October 16, 2018, (KN) his agency had ‘No plan to pursue retroactive declarations’, because the Commission was deemed non-existent before 2018. There we have yet another glaring contradiction.

Editor, I would be among the first to concede that the Coalition has tripped over itself repeatedly, especially in the area of delivering on its 2015 campaign manifesto and promises to voters, but if we are going to hold its feet to the fire on the declaration of assets issue, let us do so by encouraging the Integrity Commission, as part of its growth as an autonomous body, to comply with and enforce Section 22 of the Act.

And, going forward, all public officials who are going to be hired by government should declare their assets prior to taking up their appointments and swearing in. No one takes the job without declaring his or her assets.

Yours faithfully,

Emile Mervin

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