Compliance with the Integrity Commission Act1896 14 Jun, 2012
Mr. Nagamootoo: Mr. Speaker, I was very disturbed, not by what the nameless person with no surname is saying – I cannot find his surname – that this motion before the House is actually a toothless poodle. It is a dog without the teeth. From what the Hon. Prime Minister has said, trying to lecture Members of Parliament against temptation et cetera, that the bark is really misplaced. He should be barking in his own yard.
No one can deny that we have gone past the shadow of temptation in Guyana and no one can deny that every single child in this country can observe the ostentatious lifestyles of many in public office. We could see with dramatic effect and graphically so, the evidence of Pradovilles. People are asking the question everywhere of where have we lost the moral compass. That has been the cardinal principle that underlines the Integrity Commission legislation, it is to be able to find and define the moral compass so that we can guide our nation into that, what we all call, heaven of freedom where there is integrity in public life and those who hold office legitimises that office with honesty and avoids putting their finger into the cookie jar. That has been the background behind which the integrity legislation had become expedient and necessary.
Today we find, as we read the newspapers, of even minor and mini officials – I am looking around – are involved in double dipping and triple dipping. The doubling up as Members of Parliament and holding august offices with State entities, and they are dipping. Some people dip trice in the State coffers. So that when we are talking here about Members of Parliament, we must address those who wear three or four hats and even the exhortation for Parliamentarians to declare would not address the issue of total declaration, it will avoid it. I know the reason why this motion was brought. It has been brought under the shadows of very spirited and grave debates and concern about public funds in institutions such as NICIL, the Lotto Funds and many other private purses where public funds are kept, the most recent is the immorality of having to ask Members of this House in good conscience to vote for $130 million, taxpayers money, to fund an institution like NCN. Then you read about all type of malfeasances that ought to be investigated. It gives this parliament every justification for not having gone the way the Government wanted us to go to deposit taxpayers’ money into an institution that is so bad in public accountability.
Mr. Speaker, I have here a letter from the Integrity Commission dated 2nd May, 2012 asking me to submit - as I usually do, and I have done in every single year that I was required to do so until now - my declaration for the year 2011 by the deadline 30th June, 2012 to bring me current with all the declarations. But that letter was from the Integrity Commission and stated at the bottom “securing the integrity of persons in public life”. It did not say Members of Parliament but “persons in public life”. Notwithstanding the letter sent to the Hon. Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the majority, Mr. David Granger, that there is no Commission as of 28th May, 2012 – there is no Commissioner or Chairman - I was being asked to make a declaration, as I would have done irrespective of whether there was a Commission or not. I thought it was my duty to do so. And I thought that Members, from the President down to all other functionaries of the state and in public life, ought to have done what I have done – to make their declaration. But now I realise there is no Commission; that this was an exercise in futility; that the Commission could not act on any of the declarations because it has no capacity on which to act. There is no tribunal that would investigate. There is not even a chairman with adequate staff and with technical people as required by the integrity legislation who could conduct the forensic of declarations of local and foreign accounts – accounts that involves assets here and abroad. Where is the mechanism? Where is the tribunal? Where is the technical team which ought to do the investigation? As good as this law is, the intention of it very lofty, I support it 150%. Just as one man told me once in India in the Palika Bazzar, that the cloth I wanted to buy was 150% cotton. I was happy that I was getting more than I was expecting. I would support that we have a mechanism that is operable.
But when one looks at what the legislation was intended to deal with I would say, as I said, I know the reason why this motion was brought. It is this House and Members of this House who have as part of their public duty the prosecution of glaring examples of malpractices, malfeasance and corruption by big institutions and big players, conflict of interest, and, as I said, double-dipping. What do we have here? Instead of kicking the ball of corruption the Hon. Prime Minister has brought a motion to kick the players, the political players who are now talking about corruption and talking against corruption. As we saw the Hon. Attorney General, Mr. Nandlall, was aiming his volleys at me, just a small fish in the profession trying to earn an honest living with small fees. He was trying to target me because he said in Berbice on television, “I was bleeding NICIL”, and “how dare Nagamootoo, the man from the Bible, to question corruption in NICIL”. In other words they were trying a technique to turn the accusers into the villains. They wanted to shift public opinion on their side; these people are so unconscionable, they are milking the treasury and raising allegations of corruption. This is one of the most fascinating turn of events. The victims, who are some of us here, many of us here, facing the burden of our nation bleeding to death by corruption and corrupt practices, are now turned into the violators. But the nation will not be fooled on this occasion, not by this motion. I would have thought the best thing the Hon. Prime Minister would have done was to withdraw this motion. This motion - and the Hon. Member Deborah Backer did not say the word - was still born; this was dead on arrival; it can go nowhere because it was not intended to address the mischief. This motion was intended as a propaganda ploy, as a massive diversion from the debates taking place in this House against corruption.
I agree with the Hon. Member Deborah Backer on what she said about the 1991 Integrity Act which was repealed. As the predecessor there was some level of continuity in relation to some concerns about integrity in public life. I was on that side when the law was being hammered out. I am a strong advocate for it together with a code of conduct, how we ought to behave. The mischief this law tries to create is not simply a mischief of declaration of assets. The underlining basis for this law has been behaviour in public office which allows one to conclude there could be, not temptation, Mr. Prime Minister, but actual malfeasance, because in public life the law states very clearly what is intended to deal with such behaviour. If I may, I refer to it as influence peddling, using one’s office to peddle influence for gains; using one’s office to do insider trading; to anticipate contracts and to alert friends and brothers where to put in the bids; to see an advantage for themselves; people who own office to see a housing project and try to anticipate where to put up the next hotel, or where to put up the next recreational centre or resort. These are now glaring examples in our society that all is not well in the state of Denmark. The Aegean stable has to be cleansed. The instrument by which it can be cleansed is by way of enforcement of integrity in public life, and by way of observance of the code of conduct for those in public office.
There is also the misuse of state funds, the misuse of public property in facilitating the development of land and housing site for the fat cats... Sir, you said I should not use that… for the big ones. This is where the law places not only parliamentarians… I have no apologies whatsoever to say parliamentarians ought to set an example, ought to declare their assets. Parliamentarians cannot come here and beat their breasts and criticise malfeasance in public office without themselves observing laws. But we say here that you cannot be selective when a motion comes from the Prime Minister, the first Vice President of our Cooperative Republic, a Cabinet Member who acts as the Chief-of-Staff and the Commander-in-Chief in the absence of the President. When a motion comes from him he must address the issue that this is wider.
The schedule specifies that the President of Guyana shall declare. I did not hear the Prime Minister say so. He looks at the Members of Parliament, he looks at the sardines, and says, “okay, sardines…” Do you know Arévalo’s book ‘The Shark and The Sardines’? Well, Speaker of the National Assembly, you are on the list, not a suspect, Sir, a distinguished list; Ministers of the Government who are also Members of this House, some are elected some are unelected or nonelected - so do not only look at the elected Members of Parliament; none is excluded; The Secretary to the Cabinet, by whatever name one may wish to designate the Secretary; Head or not Head of the Presidential Secretariat; Parliamentary Secretaries; Members of the National Congress – but they do not have that anymore - Members of local democratic organs; and the list goes on. The motion has all the people from the public office. There is a category also that it envisages of public officers, persons in the Regional Democratic Council, in the state own banks, in institutions such as NICIL where the controlling interest is vested in the state, or any agency on behalf of the state; Members of the Tender Board. So when one sets up oneself as a director and one does double-dipping… “director of a state entity that is controlled by the state…” one is also required to declare assets. Whether it is NICIL or any other state asset, if one places oneself as a member of that board one is required to declare, but not in the exact form that the Integrity Commission requires.
I want to say the fact that there is no Integrity Commission casts a very damning shadow on all of our efforts to bring about integrity in public life. That is what worries me here tonight as someone who laboured, as they say, in the vineyard of politics. I wish it could have been the honeycomb of politics. The bitterness of political life with no reward has been my fate. But for labouring in that vineyard… [Mr. Neendkumar: You will remain bitter all the days of your life.] Not without a last name. I know my father. I have a surname. Sir, I feel very disappointed that we can do this to ourselves, try to turn this debate into a propaganda ploy.
I want to refer to the writer Susan Rose-Ackerman… [Mr. Neendkumar: How much money you collect last Saturday?] I will tell you when you tell me your surname. What is your name? Susan Rose-Ackerman is the Henry R. Luce Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University and A Visiting Research Fellow at the World Bank. She is the author of a study, The Political Economy of Corruption. She wrote:
“The political economy of corruption causes and consequences…
The Prime Minister has given us a long lecture on the section of the amendment that talks about corrupt practices etcetera. This was not meant as a kind of witch hunt. I have no intention to witch hunt anyone from the state or anywhere else because we are dealing with an issue that is part of the life of this country. Therefore I wish to state what Susan Rose-Ackerman says:
“Corruption occurs at the interface of the public and private sectors. Sometimes officials simply steal state assets, but the more interesting and complex cases occur when a private individual organisation bribes a state official with power over the distribution of public benefits or costs. Many officials remain honest (and I believe this) in the face of considerable temptation and others accept payoffs that seem small relative to the benefits under their control. Others however, amass fortunes.”
Mr. Speaker, we have seen reports in the newspapers of mushrooming pools, mansions, and we are not opening our eyes as to where wealth is being amassed. We must turn our guns at those who defy public morality and try to feel as if everyone in this country is a fool and they could pull wool over the eyes of everyone.
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask that the Member be cautioned on the use of the word “guns”.
Mr. Speaker: “Guns”? I have been carefully monitoring the speaker with my Standing Orders before me and I believe the context in which the statement was made is quite appropriate and approved. The proverbial “guns”, like the proverbial “cats”… but, I believe, we have to see it in the context in which it was said. What I am concerned about - and so far there has been no instance of it - is any reference to any Member of this House, which I will not permit. Thank you.
Mr. Nagamootoo: Mr. Speaker, I believe here again is an attempt at deflection. No one, at least no one in this House - and we are generous - has called anyone by name though we can name names and cite spots, and we can cite locations. We can do these things because we are no better than the ordinary citizens who know everything. And what is not known now when I study Marxist dialectics, is noble. It may be concept now, tomorrow it will be knowledge. Sometimes there is a concept in the country because we see the pattern of what is developing. I cannot say everybody over there is involved in that pattern. Not everyone in public life is involved in this pattern that breeds a concept that we could be corrupt. It is a concept that if we could become corrupt then maybe we would be corrupt. And so if we have even the slim possibility that public life can taint us then it is an obligation that we go after everyone in public life and not start selectively to portray that only some are corrupt or probably some do not want to come straight while others would want to. Let us have one cast net and let us catch the houri, the conger-fish together with the caca-bellies – everybody must come onshore. Let us sort them out. That is the approach Hon. Prime Minister.
Sir, I think a lot has been said, but I just want quote something from Susan Rose- Ackerman and I will end. It says:
“In the United States, for example, corruption has periodically surfaced in the public housing programmes.”
Does that tell us anything? I am talking about the United States of America not Guyana. I dare not talk about Guyana? How dare I speak about Guyana? If I start to talk we will have to have coffee here, Sir. Your honour, if I may, just once, I am tempted. I quote:
“Although privatizing state owned enterprises reduces opportunities for corruption (this is the privitisation czars I am dealing with now; not here, the oligarchs) the privitisation process itself could create corrupt incentives. A firm may pay to be included in the list of qualified bidders or to restrict their numbers. It may pay to obtain a local assessment of the public property to be leased (I am sometimes in need of pharmaceutical, Sir) or sold off, or to be favoured in the selection process.”
This is not Guyana.
“Before reform to the process in Argentina for example privatizations allegedly favour those with inside information and connections.”
I have not spoken about Guyana as yet. I spoke about Argentina, the United States, some Eastern Bloc countries. But it sounds like Guyana, smells like Guyana, looks like Guyana and probably it is Guyana.
I believe that this motion could be improved with the amendments. I do not subscribe to the notion that we cannot declare our assets, but we should declare our assets in due form and to due authority, the Integrity Commission. To ask us to do otherwise is to try to do something that is full of mischief; one wants action without remedy. One wants people to do and act but there is no way to deal with the malfeasance if discovered because the intention is probably not to discover anything. We do not want that. We want this legislation to work. Even if we start from today we want all officials who have their hefty bank accounts overseas let us know how they got them, where they got it, and in whose name these things have been amassed. They have to declare. And we have to speak to our President because he is the moral conscience of our nation. He is our President and if he were to act within the law he has to act decisively because this country cannot wait longer for us to clean the image of what we are. We could be better than we are; we think we are better than we are, and we ought to be. Therefore, we must not make jokes about corruption. We must not come here and try to pass the buck. We have to be meaningful, and send a message to the Guyanese people that we could deal with this matter; we could save our nation; we could rescue it and place it into the safe hands of those who have integrity as the lone star of public life. I say this unapologetically, I am with the Government, or any institution 150%, even 1000%, if its efforts are aimed at making the institution work; form it, make it work. As regards whether the President can publish names or the Commission, this is how it works. The Commission declares to the President, so if any Commissioner is found in default the President publishes the name of the commissioner or commissioners, but if any member who ought to declare under the Act defaults the Commission publishes the name. So the role of the President is not there as the schoolteacher with the whip. The President in this context is a creature of the law and the President has to make sure, first of all, in order to manage the commission there must have a commission or else what are you doing? It is a poppy show. Have the Commission composed, as the amendment seeks to do and when that is formed we can duly declare our assets. That is the right way to go. As I said, I would rather feel tonight that this is a new beginning. We will have a new resolve here tonight and not just want to turn this motion, this opportunity that is golden to unite us all, into another publicity stunt. I say no more.
Thank you. [Applause]
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