kaieteur news  May 14, 2017

 Transparency Institute Guyana Incorporated (TIGI) remains concerned about the state of the Office of the Commissioner of Information which is currently headed by, Charles Ramson Snr.

According to TIGI’s head, Dr. Troy Thomas, there are a number of issues regarding the Office of Commissioner which are yet to be resolved.
In an interview, Thomas said that TIGI has taken note of the fact that the Commissioner of Information is yet to submit a single report regarding his work since he assumed office in 2013.
The anti-corruption advocate said that TIGI is also deeply concerned about the effectiveness of the Access to Information Act while noting that “some deep changes” need to be made.
Dr. Thomas articulated that the Office of the Commissioner has proven in some instances that access to information in Guyana is a process that is extremely riddled with challenges, only to be told in the end that the information requested cannot be provided. He said that it leaves one to conclude whether or not the Office of the Commissioner of Information is even necessary.
“The next thing that is wrong is that there is no penalty for the Commissioner for refusing to carry out his functions but the only recourse is the courts and that mechanism is daunting…The law needs to be reviewed to include penalties,” expressed Dr. Thomas.
Thomas said that the Office has transformed into controlling mechanism for information rather than promoting freedom of it.
“We called before to scrap this thing because at every turn there is a loophole for the office not to act on a request for information. So this needs to change so that we can begin to have value for money,” TIGI stated.
From 2013 to now, Guyana has nothing to show for approximately $70M in salary costs alone, to sustain Ramson.
That cost is actually more than enough to cover needed repairs at the East Ruimveldt Secondary School, the Cyril Potter College of Education and Cummings Lodge Secondary School with a few millions left to comfortably pay for much needed road upgrades in the Essequibo Islands.
However, there are no reports laid in the National Assembly to show the work he has done since his appointment. And the government in an attempt to rectify the issue is facing legal action initiated by Ramson.
The matter is one that has left critics asking how soon a more “effective” person can be appointed to the position.
Commentator and political activist, Dr. David Hinds, is one who believes that the government should investigate this matter with some urgency while still exercising fairness to Ramson.
Hinds noted that the second problem has to do with the effectiveness of the office as a democratic medium.
“By refusing to heed requests by the government to present statutory reports of his work, he is in effect thumbing his nose at the administration. This is part of the larger problem government faces with some State functionaries who are loyal to the PPP—these functionaries use their positions to frustrate the smooth operation of the government and to make it look bad. In my view, this is exactly what the current Commissioner, a known and outspoken member of the PPP, seems to be doing,” Hinds opined.
The University Professor said that the Commissioner of Information is a presidential appointment; therefore, if the President is convinced that the officer is not adequately carrying out his functions, he could revoke the appointment.
“If the Commissioner is indeed refusing to produce reports and is not cooperating with the government, then the President should remove him and find someone more suited,” Hinds added.
The Executive Member of the WPA believes that the president should set up a Commission of Inquiry to look into the matter to determine whether the present Commissioner is undermining the mandate of his office and the extent to which the government itself has sought to make the institution accessible to the public.
Dr. Hinds stressed that the Office of the Commissioner of Information is an important State Institution that if properly advertised and staffed, could enhance public accountability.
He pointed out that too much money is being paid to one person for practically doing nothing. It has been noted in the Parliament that Ramson received about $1.2M in salary along with other benefits.
Ramson still refuses to answer any questions from this newspaper, stating that he has “closed the door” on the media outlet’s Editor-In-Chief, Adam Harris, Publisher Glenn Lall and First Vice President and Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo.
The First Vice President who has responsibility for Information has since made it clear his hands are tied on the matter. He said that President David Granger is looking into it.
According to Nagamootoo, the matter was sent to the Chambers of the Attorney General, Basil Williams for advice.
Williams was contacted last night to ascertain the status of the case.
“I don’t know. Call me tomorrow. I’ll check tomorrow,” is all the Minister of Legal Affairs had to offer in response to questions by Kaieteur News.