By Abena Rockcliffe- Campbell
Despite the fact that it is still in draft, one would have expected Ministers to still strive to abide by the code
of conduct proposed by their own Administration. So said former Auditor General and anti-corruption advocate, Anand Goolsarran yesterday.
Addressing Minister of State Joseph Harmon’s recent trip to China, he said that Harmon violated several aspects of the Code of Conduct. However, Goolsarran zeroed in on one aspect, to wit, the acceptance of gifts.
Harmon is still to face the press since revelations were made about his trip to China, his interference in the official business of the Guyana Revenue Authority and his appointment of Brain Tiwarie as Ministerial Advisor on Business development.
In his press release about the China trip, Harmon said, that the Ambassador of China to Guyana, who was in China at that time, made arrangements for me to meet officials of four companies, which had signalled their intention to make significant investments in Guyana.
These companies are located in Beijing, Shanghai, Hebei and Heilong Jiang Provinces…Because of the significant distances involved and the limited time available on that trip, the Ambassador made arrangements for these companies to provide transportation, both air and land, for me to travel to their respective Head Offices.
Goolsarran is saying that that is no justification.
Just five months after taking office, the new administration released a long-awaited Code of Conduct that is supposed to govern how Ministers behave in office. The Code has been released for fine-tuning.
The draft document speaks to disciplinary actions or terminations for Ministers, Parliamentarians and other
public office holders who are in the breach.
It also addresses the acceptance of gifts of more than $10,000, conflict of interests, accountability and even gambling.
The code was considered crucial for the David Granger administration which campaigned for the May 11, 2015 General Elections on promises that it will be making sweeping changes to improve behaviour of public officials.
When it comes to accepting gifts, the code mandated public officials to report gifts or other forms of reward valued at more than $10,000 to the Integrity Commission.
It is being recommended that public officials should consider declining such gratuities if the acceptance of same could be perceived to have an effect on their objectivity and lead to complaints of bias or impropriety.
“Ministers, Members of Parliament and public office holders should…avoid compromising themselves or their office which may lead to an actual or perceived conflict of interest. Failure to avoid or declare any conflict of interest may give rise to criticism of favouritism, abuse of authority or even allegations of corruption.
The code of conduct also said “Public officials should also desist from accepting lavish or frequent entertainment from persons with whom the government has official dealings- including from suppliers or contractors, clubs and persons to which the state may allocate resources or job assignments.
Goolsarran told Kaieteur News that he was indeed impressed when he saw the release of the draft code of
conduct; but that was soon washed away when he read about the Harmon saga.
The anti-corruption advocate said that the arrangement in place to not accept more than $10,000 in gifts is a good one as it is the same measure used at the level of the United Nations.
“Persons accepting gifts of more than US$50 would have to declare it and surrender it to the Secretary General. You only took the gift if it was actually necessary as in the case if someone gives you a bottle of wine or Vodka worth more than the accepted limit.”
Goolsarran said that Harmon’s going to China and accepting the gift of jet rides to different provinces paid for by the Chinese companies is a clear violation of the code of conduct.
“Although it is draft one would have accepted the Ministers to abide by it. Harmon had a right to decline those trips, as it can be viewed by the public as a measure that will taint his judgement, influencing his decisions favorably to the investors he spoke about.
Further, Goolsarran stated that if Harmon was made aware of persons in China that wanted to invest he should have advised the company to come make a proposal to Go-invest or go through the Embassy.
“It is wholly inappropriate what Harmon did, one can say he compromised himself. There is a procedure to be followed and in any case there is a Minister of Business. The companies should simply have been made to follow the right procedure,” said Goolsarran.
The former Auditor General said, “This is the exact thing the previous government did and this is what we were all against.”