Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman yesterday handed over a “re-worked” draft of the code of conduct for government officials and Members of Parliament to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, who announced that the next move is to seek to incorporate it into the integrity legislation although there is no timeframe for when the process will be completed.
Speaking at his Shiv Chanderpaul Drive office, Nagamootoo said the code, which was promised in the coalition government’s first 100 days, will now be sent to the chief parliamentary counsel for advice on whether it should be incorporated as an amendment to the legislation.
According to the Prime Minister, since the Integrity Commission Act already provides for the declaration of assets and for justification of assets belonging to persons holding public office and their relatives, it should be broadened to include the “prescription… for a code of conduct.” He said this is to ensure that the government is not dealing with separate legal instruments regulating or monitoring the conduct of persons holding public office but rather there is one consolidated law that should be enforced.
The code is meant to regulate both the public and private lives of public officials, including ministers and Members of Parliament.
Meanwhile, according to Trotman, when it comes to ensuring that public officials are held accountable, in keeping with the code, the President and Prime Minister would be the persons to make the decisions about sanctions in the cases of ministers and government Members of Parliament.
“All these things dealing with law and the reformation of law have to do with not only timeframes [but also] the quality of what you put out and, therefore, you have to follow certain step-by-step procedures to ensure that the process itself is transparent,” Nagamootoo said, when asked about a timeframe for the code of conduct to become a reality.
He added that at the end of the process, the government could not be accused of not having consultations and for him it is not about dealing with deadlines and timelines but to come up with something that can be judged in the end as being “enforceable and it has certain provisions by which our leaders in public life can be held accountable.”
The Prime Minister said the country has had integrity legislation for many years, spanning three presidents, but no one has ever been investigated under the Commission and for ten years it was without a Chairman. “…We had a headless body. So that although there is much importance attached to the conduct of persons in public life, I must let you know that we have inherited a very tragic situation where there was a laissez-faire attitude towards infringement and violation of the code that existed under the Integrity Commission and people were allowed to transgress with impunity,” he noted.
He made reference to the recent reports on the forensic audits and stated that the “sleaze that existed had gone unchecked for many, many years… the reports from the forensic audits point to what was definitely … wrong so that while we hold a code of conduct to be of great importance, we must also point out that this is a new beginning; this is a fresh start.”
Nagamootoo said the government wants to ensure that there is a code that is not a dead letter in the law but one that can be enforced. He said that is why it believes strengthening the integrity legislation with a code that could be enforced under the law “is of great importance rather than to trying to …short cut to bring it as a matter of form and not to have it introduced as a matter of the necessity to regulate and deal with misconduct of persons in public life.”
Trotman, who was Minister of Governance when he initially came up with the draft last year, described yesterday’s document as an “improvement from what we had.”
The draft was circulated to interested parties but according to the Prime Minister only two responses were submitted and, therefore, a decision was made for a special committee to be established and have the matter reopened for submissions, with the hope of receiving submissions from Guyanese at home and abroad.
Trotman said despite what appeared to be public interest on the issue after advertisements were published in the newspapers requesting submissions, in the end only about 12 persons made submissions. “But we are very grateful for that which was received but I really thought that we would have been flooded with hundreds of proposals given… what appears to be the high public interest in the matter. But nonetheless we did our best to incorporate as many of those recommendations… that were received.”
Nagamootoo had asked Trotman to chair the committee, which included attorneys Dela Britton, Simone Morris-Ramlall and Tammy Khan, among others, to review the draft. The committee met on five occasions and according to the minister, approached its work with “great alacrity,” reviewing precedents from various countries.
Britton, in brief comments, indicated that the team toiled and she is of the opinion the code is merely a guide that is not written in stone as over time “what we perceived as impropriety or conflict of interest might expand or contract and so the document might have to be re-visited from time-to-time.” However, she said the committee covered the ambit of public life.
In September last year, Trotman had announced that the draft was completed but government would await the public’s reaction before it became final.
The then proposed code, which was seen by Stabroek News, stated actions that could result in ministers, parliamentarians and other public office holders facing disciplinary action or being fired, including failure to declare conflicts of interest or accepting expensive gifts or “lavish” entertainment from persons doing business with government.
The code of conduct was promised by the coalition government which had set itself the deadline of getting it done within the first 100 days in office. In the plan, it was promised that the code would be established for parliamentarians, ministers and others holding high positions in public office and would include mechanisms for demitting office if in violation of the code.