The Integrity Commission Act2627 14 Jun, 2012
Rev. Dr. Gilbert: Mr. Speaker, I want to lend my support to the motion moved by the Hon. Prime Minister on the compliance with the Integrity Commission Act which we have been reminded was made into law since 1997. I believe the danger of one attempting to speak on issues of integrity can sometimes become a very ticklish one. It can appear one is seeking to hold him or herself out or up as the personification of perfection or integrity. Sometimes people get a little edgy and we tend to find ourselves pointing fingers. But there is a scripture that talks about Jesus in a particular context. It said he that is without sin should cast the first stone. So in that sense when we have these discussions about integrity one always needs to ask oneself, am I guilty? Am I qualified to speak on this matter?
The principle of this motion, I believe, is threefold. First, it seeks to constrain all elected officials, including Members of Parliament, to submit annual declarations to the Commission in accordance with the law. Secondly, it calls upon His Excellency the President to make disclosure to the Speaker annually the names of those Members of Parliament who are in default. Thirdly, it calls upon the Committee of Privileges to sanction such Members of this House according to the established norms of ethics.
One cannot ignore, and I think it would be dishonest of anyone to ignore, the implications of the letter, which the Hon. Member Mrs. Backer read, that indicates that there is not an existing Commission.
I want to point to the fact that I think the spirit of the motion is of greater importance than the letter of the motion. I will tell the Members why I say that. There is a military term – I think the Hon. Member Mr. Granger would be qualified… I do not think that he is the initiator of that principle; I have heard being said by a number of persons who have had military experience and, Sir, I do not believe that you in any way might be culpable or responsible, I have great regard for you - that I heard from persons in the military community, who have said that there is principle in the army, where a person complies now and complains later. I do not know if that is true, but I have heard of such - that a person complies now and complains later.
The issue of what we are dealing with here is that we are dealing with a law and it is a law that is given the veracity, or is given effect, by the existence of a Commission, but there seems to me to be an anomaly somewhere, where there is a requirement of a motion that seeks to compel law makers to abide by the law. That has to be an anomaly. The spirit of the Act itself, and not the motion, presupposes that persons in public life are naturally and willingly in compliance with the law. I think that is the spirit of that Act; that those who are in public life are naturally and willingly in compliance with the law. It also presupposes that persons who occupy high public offices are individuals who will exemplify the highest levels of integrity and lawfulness in both their public and private lives. In fact, I want to assume that it is for this reason public officials are accorded the same level, or just about the same level, or are regarded in reverence as Justices of the Peace, religious leaders, in affixing their signatures to sworn affidavits. Public officials in essence, therefore, are to be, in some regard, custodians or rather purveyors of truth, integrity, honesty and righteousness.
In fact, for those of us who read the Bible, if we read from the book of Romans, chapter 13, we would see that public officials are referred to – I suppose in this sense it also includes Members of Parliament – as Ministers of God. If one reads the Koran, in sura 6, section 165, it states: “He who hath made you his agents, inheritors of the earth, He had raised you up in rank, some above others, that he may try you in gifts that he had given you for the Lord is quick in punishment yet he is often forgiving and most merciful.” I think that the principle that is established there is that both the Bible and the Koran establish that public officials are recognised by God to be his agents, his ministers, in the earth. As Ministers of God there are certain moral responsibilities that are entrusted upon us. For example it states that we should not owe any man anything. Whether it is paying our debt or making a declaration, we should not owe anything. It goes on to talk about some of the other standards – should not commit adultery; should not kill; should steal; should not bear false witness; should not be covetous. It speaks on a wider context. We understand from that is that public officials are held to a very high standard by God, by the law and by the citizens of a nation.
It therefore becomes a grave anomaly when lawmakers dishonour the high esteem of their calling by violating the very laws that they themselves have created. The issue then, therefore, is then what can we hold out as an acceptable credential or criterion upon which we have earned the right, moral authority, to speak when we, by whatever technicality, find ourselves violating the very laws we make. We cannot say to our children “do as we say but do not do as we do” because we lead by our examples as public officials. We, in this House, must set the bar of moral and ethical uprightness, not just for our children, but for all of Guyana, and abiding by the laws we create is setting a standard of ethical uprightness.
It cannot be, therefore, that, as parliamentarians, we are dragged unwillingly to a table of compliance by a parliamentary resolution executed by the President or the Committee of Privileges. It must be that we recognise our moral and civic obligation to be guided by the laws that we make in this House and by our own sense of national responsibility. It must be noted that in section 19 of the Act empowers the Commissioner and the President to publish names, which has not been enforced. I rather suspect that what is desired is not forced compliance, but rather voluntary submission to the process of public accountability. I do suspect that if it were a case of just seeking to vilify, publicly humiliate, that section of the Act would have already been enforced, but there has not been an enforcement of that Act. I rather believe that the intent is not really to attack people and expose anybody. I believe that any nation in which attempts are made to bring change to a national culture, particularly if that culture has not been one where people have been willing to put their own lives under public scrutiny, there is going to be all kinds of resistance preventing some of those things from becoming a manifest or a reality.
I have confidence that even as we have entered into this new era – we hear a lot about this new era – in which public officials, specifically, Members of Parliament, are willing… I am encouraged to have heard all of the speakers on the Opposition side, who have spoken so far, said that in principle they have no issue with public officials being brought under scrutiny, and that, for me, would suggest that they too recognise that public officials must be held accountable by the people, who we serve, for how we conduct our lives, both in private and in public. With this, I want to simply encourage that we all give support to this motion.
Thank you very much Sir. [Applause]gil
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