Integrity Commission on shaky ground

There has been unprecedented focus this past week on the Integrity Commission established under the Integrity Commission Act 1997. On Monday, President Jagdeo announced that he would be meeting the Commissioners two days later to tell them that he expected they would publish within two weeks the list of MPs who were failing to comply with the Act. Simultaneously, he announced that steps would be taken to have defaulters charged. On Tuesday it was reported that in a high profile family proceedings matter a declaration made under the Act was tendered in negotiations outside of the court to support a settlement offer. On Wednesday the promised meeting did not take place even as the two main opposition parties were reported as criticising the statements by the President. On Thursday the government claimed in an advertisement that the President’s call for sanctions was consistent with the law and that the criticisms by the opposition warranted “the most profound explanation” and on Friday the PNCR leader rebuffed the President’s call.

The Act was intended to promote transparency and integrity among public officials and sets out penal sanctions for non-compliance. Unfortunately the Act met with a court challenge in 2005 by the PNCR that the appointment of the Commissioners breached the consultation requirement set out in the Act. Despite the Act’s obvious significance, the court has not yet found time to deal with the case and in the view of the PNCR, the Act is effectively in abeyance. While Parliament has continued to allocate sums of money for the Commission’s secretariat, reports are that the Commission has not been functioning for want of a quorum and questions concerning the Commission are referred to chief government spokesman, Dr Prem Misir. Meanwhile the Commission has itself not been complying with the Act, suggesting that they too consider the Act as being held in abeyance.

All the President’s Men
Desirable as it is, the President’s apparent impulsive call made without due consideration of all the provisions in the Act may have the very opposite of the objectives he intends. What the President needs to do at this stage is take legal counsel and ensure that his action does not undermine achieving transparency and corruption. He should realise that he may get as much resistance from his own people as from the opposition. Specified declarants include all the presidential advisors and many from the party who hold top positions, and disclosure may place them in the uncomfortable position of having to explain any sudden wealth.

Calling it George
The Act provides for a Commission made up of a chairman and not less than two or more than four other members, to be appointed by the President after consultation with the Minority Leader. The persons who have been appointed by the President are Anglican Bishop Randolph George as Chairman, Fazeel Ferouz of the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG), Nigel Hinds of the Guyana Council of Churches and Pandit Rabindranauth, Director of the National Commission of the Family.

Usually such legislation comes under a particular minister and while the Act refers to “the Minister” it does not identify which one, while the bill setting up the Commission was piloted by the then Attorney General, Mr Bernard De Santos. It seems, however, that the President has assumed ministerial responsibility for the Act, though this is certainly not clear.

Bishop George resigned as Chairman close to three years ago, but according to the Commission, which does not speak on the record, since his resignation has not been accepted by the President, the Bishop remains the Chairman. In fact there is nothing requiring such acceptance as section 5 (2) of the Act provides that “The chairman or any other member may resign by letter addressed to the President.”

More confusion
The announcement that the Commission has not been meeting because of a lack of a quorum seems equally misinformed since section 9 (4) provides that three persons constitute a quorum and that in the absence of the chairman the persons present can appoint a chairman. Perhaps the framers of the Act knew what they were doing by requiring the chairman to be a judge of the High Court or any other fit and proper person, and the other members to have “experience in law, administration of justice, public administration, social service, finance or accountancy, or any other discipline.” The appointments based solely on religion appear to have put in overall charge of the Commission persons whose knowledge and experience seem limited indeed, defeating the one of the objectives of the Act.

Appointments are for specified terms subject to reappointment with the terms of appointment, remuneration, etc, being determined by the President after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition.

The principal requirement of the Act is that designated persons set out in Schedule I of the Act must submit annually by June 30, a statement of the income, assets and liabilities for the preceding calendar year of themselves, their spouse and unmarried children under the age of eighteen. Assets and liabilities include those held in Guyana as well as those held abroad. The statements by persons other than Commissioners are to be submitted to the Commission while members of the Commission are required to submit their statement to the President. Persons who are not designated in the Act but who are in public life may also be required to submit a similar statement if a complaint has been lodged with the Commission. Section 28 (3) has the effect of discouraging certain kinds of complaints and provides for penalties for complaints that are frivolous, mischievous or spiteful.

Persons who must file statements
The President of Guyana; The Speaker of the National Assembly; Ministers including Ministers of State; Secretary to the Cabinet; Parliamentary Secretaries; Members of the National Assembly; Members of the National Congress of Local Democratic Organs; Members of the Regional Democratic Councils; Clerk of the National Assembly; Attorney-General (if not a Member of the Cabinet); Head of the Presidential Secretariat; Director of Protocol, Office of the President; Chief of Protocol, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Permanent Secretaries and Deputy Permanent Secretaries; Ombudsman; Director of Public Prosecutions; Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions; Solicitor-General; Deputy Solicitor-General; Chief Parliamentary Counsel; Deputy Chief Parliamentary Counsel; Auditor General; Deputy Auditor General; Secretary to the Treasury; Deputy Secretary to the Treasury; Commissioner of Police; Deputy Commissioner of Police; Chief of Staff, Guyana Defence Force; Director General, Guyana National Service; Commandant, Guyana People’s Militia; Members, Elections Commission; Members, Judicial Service Commission; Members, Public Service Commission; Members, Police Service Commission; Members, Teaching Service Commission; Members, Public Service Appellate Tribunal; Police Complaints Authority; Heads of Diplomatic Missions of Guyana accredited to any other country or any international organization; Governor, Deputy Governor and Heads of Division of the Bank of Guyana; Managing Directors and Managers of State owned or controlled banks; Heads of all Government Departments; Commissioner of Lands and Surveys; Deputy Commissioner of Lands and Surveys; Commissioner of Geology and Mines; Deputy Commissioner of Geology and Mines; Commissioner of Forests; Deputy Commissioner of Forests; Commissioner of Inland Revenue; Deputy Commissioner of Inland Revenue; Comptroller of Customs and Excise; Deputy Comptroller of Customs and Excise; Judges of the Supreme Court; Presidential Advisors; Magistrates; Commissioner of Title; Registrar of the Supreme Court; Registrar of Deeds; State Solicitor, Official Receiver and Public Trustee; Chief Planning Officer; Chief Executive Officer, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Heads of Departments, Public Corporations Secretariat; Chairmen, Managing Directors, Chief Executive Officers, General Managers and Heads of Departments of all public corporations, and other bodies corporate and agencies (including companies and bodies established by or under any statute) owned by the State or in which the controlling interest is vested in the State or in any agency on behalf of the State; Vice-Chancellor, Registrar, and Deans of Faculties of the University of Guyana; Registrar General; Chief Elections Officer and Commissioner of Registration; Mayors and Deputy Mayors and Town Clerks of the City of Georgetown, Town of New Amsterdam and other towns; Members of the Integrity Commission; Regional Executive Officer and Heads of Departments of Regional Democratic Councils.