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Guyana, like many other Caribbean countries, has an Integrity Commission. This commission, according to the Guyana Constitution, is responsible for ensuring integrity by public officials in efforts to ensure integrity in the public service by eliminating crime and corruption in this sector. The difference with Guyana and her Caribbean counterparts is that whilst the independence of this commission is ensured and funding provided to ensure it works, Guyanese public officials prefer to have the Commission in name only.
The relevance and importance of the Commission is in the news again. This time is not about what the government will do to make it functional and the government boasting how many of their ministers, including the President and Prime Minister have declared their assets. The Commission is being mentioned in the brouhaha over former Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson and Junior Minister Annette Ferguson receiving gifts on taxpayer’s money.
The alleged itemized items list by Minister of Public Works Juan Edghill, in a letter carried by this publication, is deserving of a response by Mr. Patterson. It is interesting the Minister finds it fitting to call on “Mr. Patterson [to] tell the country if he made his declarations of these gift items to the integrity commission in compliance with the Integrity Act and if he did not, why?
The Integrity Commission is much more than what the minister proposes and it holds not only Mr. Patterson accountable but the minister too. As at almost the end of the last year the Commission issued public notice asking defaulters to declare their assets. It would be welcoming to not hear if Mr. Patterson did declare his assets but also Minister Edghill, the President, Prime Minister, Vice President, and all other ministers of government.
This publication supports the role of the Integrity Commission and expects all public officials, particularly elected officials following the law and declaring their assets. This expectation cuts across the political spectrum. We also call for the Commission to be given the needed funding to do its works, and hope in the Budget 2021 this will be done.
It is making a mockery of the Commission to ask about asset declaration when it is known the commission is being hindered from doing its work by the very people who now seek to play up its importance.
The declaration of assets to the Commission is not for some but all. Efforts should also be made to provide the Commission with the financial wherewithal to do its work and amend the laws to make non-compliance punitive. The penalty for non-submission is negligible. $25,000 and imprisonment of six month to a year on conviction is a non-starter from get go. A commission that is not given sufficient money to do basic administrative work will not even be able to file much less prepare a court case and lead evidence in the court.
The Integrity Commission is not to be thrown around to prove a point or seek political mileage by either side; it is to ensure integrity in public service by public officials; it is to rid governments of corruption and criminality. Both government and opposition must be interested in doing so.