Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Integrity Commission is not a subject for spinning

The Integrity Commission is not a subject for spinning

Posted By Staff On February 8, 2009 @ 5:01 am In Letters | No Comments
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Dear Editor,
Perhaps it is because in cricketing terms both Dr Prem Misir and Mr Kwame McKoy would be considered spinners of the pedigree of Ramadhin and Valentine; perhaps it is because they work at the same place, or that they write and think alike; or perhaps it is their knack for assigning a political party because they do not understand or practise independence, political or otherwise, but whatever it is, Dr Misir’s missive in the Stabroek News (February 3), repeated I believe in all the dailies, wishing me luck in my campaign in the 2011 elections surely extends their line about my political goals and plans. Dr Misir was even generous enough to wish me well, but then undermines his sincerity with the words, “I really mean it.” Or perhaps Dr Misir understands the need for such an attestation clause to add to his credibility. Whatever it is, I now make this public promise: If ever I decide to participate in the 2011 or the 2021 elections, which would be my preference, I will inform Dr Misir and Kwame first. After all they will, for their own purpose, publicise the news quickly and widely. And I really mean it!

In responding to the Business Page article on the Integrity Commission, Dr Misir made bold to say that the Integrity Commission exists with a functioning secretariat. What he did not tell us is how well it is functioning. Nor does he say that the secretariat as presently constituted cannot carry out its mandate under the Integrity Act, 1997. He does not say too that the commission, including the secretariat, has failed in routine administrative functions and that the commission and the commissioners have been derelict in their statutory duties. And that the commission has only an accounts clerk.

I can only wonder how Dr Misir can be so badly informed that he seems unaware of the rather uncomplimentary report done by external consultants Bradford and Associates, and that for over two years the accountable and self-appointed Minister, President Jagdeo, has been unable or unwilling to address the commission’s identified structural, organisational and operational deficiencies and the report’s recommendations, which this administration gave a commitment to the World Bank that it would implement. I am never sure whether the World Bank and the IMF are hopelessly spineless or dangerously gullible.

Dr Misir praises the President for sounding the alarm bell, which is the doctor’s euphemism for threatening a targeted group with prosecution. He does not say that the alarm came long into the still-born state of the commission and speculates on the President’s reasons for the timing of the chiming. Why he has to speculate given that he is the President’s spokesperson-in-chief is a bit of a mystery, every bit as surprising as penning his letter − apparently in his personal capacity. Perhaps it is because he described the episode started by the President as the “integrity thing.” But it is more than that; it is about possible criminal conduct, the rule of law, accountability and transparency. It is about how some politicians and “public servants” have come to acquire significant wealth on a bare state salary. It is about the kind of society and white collar criminality we as a society are prepared to tolerate. This is not something for spinning.

Some years ago when President Jagdeo appointed the wife of someone subsequently discredited to be a member of the Integrity Commission I wrote publicly that the commission itself needed a dose of integrity. I am now more convinced than then. As commissioners they need to be more virtuous than Caesar’s wife, ensuring that they comply with all the laws of the country and are scrupulously forthright about their compliance with all the country’s laws, including those relating to taxes.

But we need to fix more than the commission, which was part of the “integrity thing.” Imagine the President has not notified the commission of the resignation of Chairman George! Is this for real? We need to get the Office of the Ombudsman, the Procurement Commission and a proper Money Laundering Unit functioning. We need to free the Guyana Revenue Authority from political influence that may inhibit their zeal in going after the big-time tax evaders. We need proper campaign financing rules to free political parties from their secret and secretive donors.

We need an Office of the DPP which enjoys the total confidence of the public. And let us not forget, we need an Audit Office where the wife of a Minister does not hold a senior post.

It is time that we begin the serious and considerable work to be done; it is not a time to spin.
But back to Dr Misir’s letter. The letter jumps from me to the PNC, and then remembering what he had set out to do, ie respond to Business Page, he jumps right back to me in his closing paragraph. Perhaps Dr Misir was being too clever by half: accuse by association.

Finally, if Dr Misir wants to find out how a real Integrity Commission works I recommend that he consider what is happening with the Integrity Commission in Trinidad and Tobago.

If he does he will see that their Integrity Commission is enshrined in their constitution rather than a mere law; he will see the quality, qualification and background of its commissioners and the clout the commission has exercised in that country. In fact, just this past Thursday the entire commission comprising Chartered Accountant John C Martin, Chairman; retired Supreme Court Judge and former Chief Parliamentary Counsel Monica Barnes; Finance Consultant Peter Clarke and Chartered Accountant Vindar-Dean Mohammed, a full-time Member of the Tax Appeal Board resigned en bloc having been criticized by a judge. Their resignations took effect on submission to President Ellis.

Since I believe we have a duty to our fellow Guyanese to share knowledge and information, I am sending a copy of today’s (Friday) Trinidadian Guardian to Dr Misir. I hope he shares it with Kwame. And I really mean it!
Yours faithfully,
Christopher Ram

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