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Opposition Leader, Joseph Harmon believes that there should be “very clear guidelines” when it comes to Ministerial gift-giving and that this should be developed through discussion and approved by the National Assembly for enforcement.
He made the comments on Monday at a press conference following questions about the alleged $2.6M that was spent on gifts from various agencies for former Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson in just one year.
Patterson has stated that all gifts he accepted as Minister were not solicited by him and, on all occasions, he assumed that the gifts were in keeping with procurement guidelines.
The APNU+AFC believes that Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill – who brought the matter to the fore through an investigation — has launched an attack on Patterson to prevent him from conducting his duties as Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairman.
The Opposition has also contended that when it comes to the acceptance of gifts, the hands of the governing PPP/C are not clean.
Only clear guidelines, Harmon said, can remedy the issue.
“I think there should be a clear policy on it. I’m not prepared to put an upper or lower limit but I do know that there are certain official gifts which you receive and are required to account for them…so, I trust that, in the fullness of time, with the strengthening of our democracy, that we’ll be able to have clear guidelines on gifts and to what extent you can in fact receive gifts in public office and what ought to be done to gifts above a certain level when you leave that public office”, he told reporters.
He explained that some gifts, especially at the Presidential display, are placed on display for all to see. However, should the staff at Ministry or agency decide to present a Minister a gift(s), clear policies should guide where the money comes from and what is an acceptable limit should the sum be coming from the Ministry’s or agency’s budget.
“This is something which has not been quantified, this is something which will have to now become part of the engagement by MPs and Ministers with respect to their behavior in public office and to what extent do you say if your staff makes an appreciation to you that you need to find out from them whether they subbed this thing together and came up with this or it came from some government coffers. So, it is a matter which we’ll have to address very carefully and to lay down some very clear guidelines. But certainly, I think that the accusers who are now accusing they are in no moral position to make those accusations,” he stated.
The Opposition has accused Minister Edghill of being hypocritical as he has been photographed receiving expensive gifts. Those images have since been reportedly removed from his Ministry’s website. The Opposition has also alleged that Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand allegedly received gold jewelry from her staff.
Edghill contends that though Patterson claims that he assumed the gifts were in keeping with procurement guidelines, the high spending on him questions whether he has a “moral compass”.
The Minister said the question which must be asked is what motivated Heads of Agencies to spend the large sum of money on Ministers.