The Integrity Commission Act2286 14 Jun, 2012
Ms. Teixeira: This motion before us is a rather simple one on the Compliance With The Integrity Commission Act. I think this event and discussion here today is an example of how politicians can get it wrong. That is what is intended. The intent of this motion, the objective of this motion, has somehow got lost.
I take full responsibility for this motion coming before this House. I see that there have been barbs at my Prime Minister who signed it, but I take full responsibility, because I am the one, after the Commonwealth Parliamentary Workshop and the simulations we had about trying to find common space and common issues that we could agree in this House to indicate to the people in this country and the electorate that we were bigger than our individual parts, that we could come together as a body of lawmakers in the highest forum of the land, in law making, and be able to set a standard that was high, that people would respect and would set a tone for the rest of the country,… It is out of those simulations, I believe, Mr. Trotman, Mr. Speaker, that on 22nd May, when some of us sat together in groups, arbitrarily chosen, that I felt, and I believed, that there was room in the political space for us to talk and to agree on a number of key issues. Having heard one of the workshop’s presentations on the issue of corruption, at that same forum, – you were there Mr. Speaker – I believe that the one thing that we could agree on, as lawmakers, is that we would be able to be in compliance with the Integrity Commission Act that sets the standard and the framework for integrity in public life. There is only one component of the group of about a hundred or so positions that are listed in the Schedule of the Act, I believe, pages 26 to 28, but we are the highest forum of law making. The barbs, quips, jokes, laughs and the insinuations are really shameful, as far as I am concerned.
As I said, I take full responsibility. I am the one who raised it in the Cabinet that we could bring this back and I was sure, coming out of that workshop, that we, as a group of three parties, could agree on one thing since we all agreed that we were ready to fight corruption. If we set the standard we should allow the society to know that this House, made up of PPP/C, APNU and AFC, could agree on one thing alone. It was one thing alone since this Parliament has begun. It is not going to happen because… [Ms. Ally: You did not even hear Mrs. Deborah Backer.] I have heard Mrs. Deborah Backer, the Hon. Deputy Speaker, well. I heard every single word she said. I heard every word that the Hon. Member Mr. Moses Nagamootoo said. I am still waiting for Ms. Amna Ally, but any way that would be a long wait. I have heard a lot in this House. Good intentions sometimes fall flat on their faces.
Let me just say that what drove me to do this, and I was proud that the Cabinet supported me on this, was that I sat with young Members from the other side - Mr. James Bond, Ms. Annette Ferguson, Ms. Africo Selman, Mr. Desmond Trotman and Mr. Damon, on my side - … [Mr. Nadir: Mr. Desmond Trotman is not that young.] Well he is not so young. He is a young Member but he is not “young.” There is a difference between being a young Member of Parliament and a “young” Member of Parliament. When I sat with this group of young people and young Members it dawned on me that in this House – it came out of the workshop – there were twenty-three new Members of Parliament, in total, and therefore it would be a good signal to the society and the young Members, both old and young, that we were setting a tone that was good, despite all of our disagreements. That is what drove me; a belief that the younger Members of this House, on both sides, were deserving of the kind of programme that we at least could agree on one or two things. We came up with a number of other notions, which you, yourself, Mr. Speaker, referred to in a recent meeting. I think it was on Wednesday.
Let me say a few things. First of all, let us go to the Act. The Act provides for the President and the Leader of the Opposition to carry out a number of functions in relation to it. This Act does not require the Leader of the Opposition and the President to have meaningful consultation, but it is to have consultation. The Act also states that the two gentlemen, after consultation, would also discuss things of emoluments and salaries, and so on. It also goes further to say that in the case where there is an investigation and a tribunal has to be set up, that the Leader of the Opposition and the President will have to consult. It is in the Act. The clauses, which I am referring to, are section 3(4), section 4(1), section 21, and so on. This is an Act that requires a level of collaboration, even if it is not cooperation.
I have heard here in the House that a letter was referred to which was written to a secretary of the Commission and the date, I believe, was 30th May. It has been quoted in this House along with the secretary’s name. I am bewildered because there is no one on that side of the House who is not aware that the names of the persons are submitted to the President and that the President appoints those persons and the secretary and the staff of the Commission will be so informed. A secretary cannot indicate to a high office, such as the Leader of the Opposition, whether the names have been submitted or not. [Interruption from the Opposition Members.] Be quiet! Would you? You had your turn, all of you. Be quiet for goodness sake. Mr. Speaker, please protect me from this babble.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, allow Ms. Teixeira to complete her presentation, please.
Ms. Teixeira: Some people talk about dogs. I talk about yard fowls. [Mrs. Backer: Do not call yourself that, Ms. Teixeira.] I am a better looking yard fowl than you are.
Mr. Speaker: Okay, Ms. Teixeira.
Mr. Ramjattan: It is unparliamentary language.
Ms. Teixeira: I am not aware that “yard fowl” is a bad name.
The Commission came to an end on 28th May and on the same day,the same Monday, we met with Mr. Granger and the APNU delegation to discuss issues. The President had received, by then, all of the three nominations of the bodies he had consulted. I was reminded, and I said it during the budget debate and I actually read a letter that was sent to the Leader of the Opposition on 22nd February about the constitutional appointments, including the Integrity Commission, and also referred, on that day, that the President had shared with the Leader of the Opposition a name of a person… [Mrs. Backer: For what?] It is for Chairperson of the Integrity Commission. You were not there, Mrs. Backer. You were not there. Whether it is the word of the Leader of the Opposition versus the President, you and I can debate that in the corridors.
A name was presented that had to be considered. I am not aware, as of now, nor am I advised, as of now, that there has been a response, but the President is in receipt, as of Monday, of three names of whom will comprise the Commission and if the Leader of the Opposition does not wish to respond, does not like the person, he is free to express his views.
The issue of the Commission not being duly constituted is not correct in the sense that it came to an end on 28th May; today is 14th June. There has to be a process where people submit names; the names have been received, and by the time this motion is passed – I assume it will be – it will be constituted. Assuming that the Leader of the Opposition is able to indicate his consent, or non-consent, or whatever… Whether he consents or not we are proceeding because the law does not require us to…, and I am sure that as a lawyer the Member would recognise that.
The contradiction is this: When the first Commission was set up the Chairperson was Bishop George. We seem to have a problem with some Bishops on the other side. The Bishop George was the Chairman of the Integrity Commission for many years. In 2004 the Commission did what is required under the Act, for the first time, that is section 19, and, that is, it put an advertisement in the newspapers as to the names of the persons who had not complied with the Act. Regrettably the names on that list, in 2004, were all Members of the PNCR-1G, including some Regional Chairmen, and so on. After Bishop George came out of the Integrity Commission, the President invited the then Leader of the Opposition to discuss names. One of the names – I think it was around 2009 – was Dr. James Rose. His name was publicly rejected by the Leader of the Opposition. In addition to that, the persons who were selected were all criticised. I remember reading the papers, and it was said in this House, by no less than the Leader of the Opposition, that why there were religious people on these things. It was stated that the Opposition at the time, PNCR-1G, would not be in compliance with the Act, would not make declarations. It was publicly stated here and the records can be found. Therefore it is saying, in not declaring, that when there is no Chairperson there is no Commission…
Mrs. Backer: Mr. Speaker, on a Point of Order, unless the Hon. Member could refer to… I am rising on a Point of Order but I see Ms. Teixeira is still standing.
Mr. Speaker: Ms. Teixeira, please yield to allow the Point of Order.
Ms. Teixeira: Well, I have to be asked to yield or I decide to yield. It is not automatic. Check the Standing Orders.
Mrs. Backer: Women’s power, Sir. I hope you are not struck down by it.
Mr. Speaker: Or it is awestruck. Under Standing Order 38, there is Point of Order, 38 (1) and 38 (2). Standing Order 38 (2), for where there is clarification being sought, the Member has to agree to yield, but if it is a Point of Order the Member shall yield to allow it to proceed.
Mrs. Backer: It is not a clarification. My Point of Order is that if the Hon. Member cannot provide the Hansard, which as we have all heard in previous motions that they are available, with the Leader of the Opposition stating that no one from PNCR-1G…whatever she said. Unless that can be substantiated, I ask that she withdraw it until it could be substantiated.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you for that observation. What I will do, as I have done in your case, Hon. Deputy Speaker, is to ask Ms. Teixeira to proceed, not to withdraw it. I am now asking the Clerk to ensure that the researchers do the checks tomorrow. I do believe that, at least when I was in the House, there was a statement made on the issue of the Integrity Commission and its Commissioner and I believe it would be useful for all of us to receive a copy of that statement. As to whether it should be withdrawn, I will not ask her to withdraw it at this point in time, but I will, at a later occasion, indicate what the position is on that.
Ms. Teixeira: The point I am making is that when there was a Commissioner, and there was a Commission, and there was a Chairman, under Bishop George, there appeared to be non-compliance. When there was a Commission and no Chairperson, again, there appeared to be non-compliance. We have gone around and [inaudible] this issue over and over again. Was it the chicken or the egg? Do you need a Commissioner first or a Chairman? The law is clear. The law requires that, as public elected officials, we submit. [Mrs. Backer: Submit to whom?] Submit to the Commission. [Mrs. Backer: Who is the Commission?] The Commission is the staff and the Commissioners.
The fact that there has been a Commission in existence for the last two years, regrettably the Leader of the Opposition did not agree to the names, it existed with a quorum of three and functioned and had come to an end on 28th May. I remember - that is why I say it is in the Hansard somewhere - Mr. Ramjattan getting on the floor and declaring that the AFC Members were in compliance. [Mr. Ramjattan: We were.] I am supporting you, Comrade. Yes, you said it.
The issue here, despite all that has been said – all the things about toothless poodle and dog without teeth, and all of the talk about a new dispensation that you all really meant new dispensation - meant that the rapidity with which request for names or discussion on the appointment of key people in appointments, which require that according to the constitutional law, would be able to move expeditiously. Six months have gone by and there has been nothing.
The issue here is: Is it that we, as Members of this House, are willing to set a standard? One can go to any part of the world that one wants to. In the UN Convention against corruption countries are now being asked not to declare who the defaulters are. They are being asked to declare the assets publicly of all elected officials. I am totally, and a hundred per cent, in support of it. That means all elected officials - whether in the Parliament, the Regions and the National Democratic Councils. It means all. Therefore this issue about appearing…, that this Commission… It must, in order to act, have the information.
For those of us who report annually, we are asked about our bank accounts, the branch of bank that our banks accounts are in, the numbers of our bank accounts, the amount of money in our bank accounts at a particular point, June the 30th. We are asked to put in if our names are on wills, if we have mortgages, if we have titles and if we get a gift valued over $50. [Mr. Ramjattan: We are well aware of this.] I am saying this, Mr. Ramjattan, because some friends on the other side may not be aware of this. Please, I know that you are well aware of this. I trust you get theirs in.
But, the Commission must be able to have the documents and the declarations, and be able, as it has done, to ask questions if they are not clear. It must be able to publicly declare those who are in default, as it did in 2004. It must do it again, but it must have the imprimatur of this House which states that this is not a partisan issue. When the National Assembly is in support of this issue, it is not a partisan issue. [Mrs. Backer: You said that. What is wrong with you?] The Deputy Speaker always has this habit of having a problem when other people speak. She likes to hear herself speak but she does not like to hear other people speak, particularly when they upbraid her. [Mrs. Backer: You upbraided me.] You are lucky that that is all I did. [Mrs. Backer: Is that an indirect reference to guns?] I am not a violent person in that way. I think Mr. Commissioner of Police knows my views on strategies, as well. It is the former Commissioner of Police. By the way, this is the first former Commissioner of Police who is a Member of Parliament and has taken a partisan position, and a former Brigadier of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) who is a Member of Parliament, after forty years of membership while he was in the GDF. Interesting times, I must say. [Mr. Nandlall: New dispensation.] It is a new dispensation. Thank you Mr. Nandlall.
Mr. Speaker, I have heard all sorts of comments about “stillborn.” Only a man could talk about “stillborn”. Only a man could use the word “stillborn”. No woman would use the word “stillborn”. It is if you understand what I mean, but you cannot, because you are a man. No woman ever uses the word “stillborn”, unless it is a medical fact. To describe this motion as stillborn shows that the Opposition Members have not read it, nor do they appreciate it, nor understand it.
The 1991 Integrity Act did not have enough clout; it was ambiguous. The 1997 Act tried to be stronger and it tried to put the onus on the individuals who have to report. Whilst we are trading with each other, there are many other people on the list who are not reporting, I believe. There are some who feel they take their cues from the Opposition side and that they should not report, and therefore do not report.
If we are talking about integrity in public life, we are the ones who must set the standard; we who are sitting in this House. If it is just the one issue of being in compliance with the Integrity Act, and compliance with the Code of Conduct,…The Code of Conduct does not only talk about inference peddling or offences of a right nature, it also talks about sexual conduct and sexual harassment – all sorts of things. It is not just about the financial temptations, as my Prime Minister talked about.
In the motion much ado was made about the second “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED” clause which states “the President to disclose” the names to the Speaker. Obviously, Mr. Speaker, this is an error and it is human to err. [Mrs. Backer: Yes…inaudible ] Stop babbling for goodness sake and listen. Jeez! I do not know how your husband deals with you. How does your husband deal with you? [Mrs. Backer: Do not ask me nonsense. I should ask what your husband is doing with you.] I do not have one. Thank God.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I do not like the way this debate is degenerating, where we start to hurl insults about people’s spouses. It is most unbecoming for us to enter into the realm of people’s personal relationships. I ask that you lift the standard, please, and refrain from doing that.
Ms. Teixeira: As I was saying, the second “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED” clause that states “the President…” It is an error. It should have said Commission. Therefore I am proposing at the appropriated time, or I am proposing now, that that word be corrected – that the word “President” be removed and the word “Commission” to be placed.
What I thought we would have been discussing in this House, which is why I began by talking about misreading, is that in other Parliaments they have developed registrars. In Parliament, from the time a Member swears in, that Member goes to a Commissioner within the Parliament, who is designated, who collects the Member’s declaration of assets. That is updated from time to time. There is actually a Committee in Parliament which reviews it and if there are any incongruities or contradictions, it can summon the Member to provide additional details. That is how the issue with the former Prime Minister Mr. Blair and his brother-in-law, and the housekeeping money of £10,000, being used to clean the house, was exposed.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member Ms. Teixeira, one second. You have about three minutes left. I am telling you this because I am not too sure that the House will be granting too many extensions tonight and I do not want you to find yourself on the wrong side, in the sense that you are made to end abruptly.
Ms. Teixeira: I am not sure which is the wrong side. I am on the right side. I am on the left side of the House. It is always going to be the better side.
Mr. Speaker: That is, of not getting the extension. Thank you.
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, I am on the East, I am on the left - what better position it is to be in. The clause that I am talking about, I believe, can be amended and that will resolve some of the concerns of the Members of the Opposition.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that the issue of the appointment of the Commission… I look to Mr. Granger as the new Leader of the Opposition to take seriously the mandate which the Act provides for him and that he, whether he agrees or disagrees with the name, would be able to conclude this matter with the President so that we can have the Commission appointed within a short period of time, and that this House will be the standard bearer in relation to the Compliance With The Integrity Act, and that this House, and all of the Members on both sides, would be able and would be big enough so that if it is brought to our attention that we are in arrears or not in compliance, we would not see it as a personal affront but we would just get ourselves in order.
I do not know about how other parties are run. I will just say this in concluding: the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) has a code of conduct for elected officials. The PPP’s General Secretary reminds all of us, as elected Members, that we have to comply with the Integrity Act. The President of the Cabinet also ensures…After 30th June of every year, when the forms are sent out by the Integrity Commission, it is put on the Cabinet agenda to remind us that we must be in compliance and submit our reports.
Therefore, all of us and our parties have a responsibility to check to make sure that all elected officials are in compliance.
The amendments that were made are problematic and confusing because I have difficulty figuring out what order is what. [Mrs. Backer: What order is what?] You switched paragraphs and stuffs as those – the ordering of things.
This motion, whether it goes through as original, it goes through as amended, the main issue is that this House, on this night, should be able to agree that we want to set a standard of integrity in public life and that we are willing to step out of the partisan mode and do what is righteous and correct in our lives, and in our political lives.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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