Jagdeo ques­tions gov’t ‘se­crecy’ over ma­jor­ity of CoI re­ports

-lit­tle info avail­able on find­ings, ac­tion

Stabroek News Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

De­spite prom­ises and the spend­ing of mil­lions of tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars, the David Granger ad­min­is­tra­tion has failed to en­sure the of­fi­cial re­lease of most of the fi­nal re­ports of more than a dozen in­quiries and this has been con­demned by Op­po­si­tion Leader Bhar­rat Jagdeo.

The non-re­lease of the re­ports means that the pub­lic is un­aware of the find­ings of the in­quiries and the rec­om­men­da­tions that have been made and the progress made by the ad­min­is­tra­tion in im­ple­ment­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions. It has also not been clear which en­tity or gov­ern­ment func­tionary has been en­trusted with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ad­dress­ing the find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions of the re­ports.

Nowhere has this been more glar­ing than in the case of the Com­mis­sion of In­quiry (CoI) that had been set up into the March 3rd, 2016 fire that claimed the lives of 17 in­mates at the Camp Street prison. That re­port was not re­leased to the pub­lic. When the Camp Street prison was burnt to the ground by pris­on­ers on July 9th this year, ques­tions were asked about the rec­om­men­da­tions from the 2016 in­quiry. It turned out that sev­eral of the rec­om­men­da­tions were not acted on, in­clud­ing those that ad­dressed the over­crowd­ing of the prison and the pres­ence of dan­ger­ous pris­on­ers.

“What is the big se­crecy around hold­ing these CoIs, which are fact-find­ing in na­ture, and then with­hold­ing their find­ings?” Jagdeo ques­tioned, while crit­i­cis­ing the gov­ern­ment for fail­ing to em­u­late its ad­vo­cacy for trans­parency while in op­po­si­tion.

Once com­plete, the re­ports from CoIs and Boards of In­quiry (BoIs) are sup­posed to be sent to Cabi­net for re­view and sub­se­quently to the Na­tional Assem­bly to be tabled. How­ever, the fi­nal re­ports have been tabled from only two of the over one dozen in­quiries that have been con­ducted, ac­cord­ing to the records at the Par­lia­ment Of­fice’s Li­brary.

The com­pleted in­quiries re­late to GuySuCo (2015), the Pub­lic Ser­vice (2016), the Ge­orge­town Prison fire and deaths (2016), the Ed­u­ca­tion Sys­tem (2016), the Drop-in Cen­tre fire and deaths (2016), the Con­di­tions and Ben­e­fits of Vet­er­ans (2016), the cir­cum­stances which led to the col­lapse of a min­ing pit and death of Keon Wil­son (2016), the al­le­ga­tions made by Barry Dataram against CANU et al (2016), the con­flicts at the Guyana Na­tional Broad­cast­ing Author­ity (2016), al­le­ga­tions of im­proper pro­cure­ment at the Min­istry of Pub­lic Health (2016), the dis­cov­ery of a for­eign air­craft from Colom­bia near the vil­lage of Yupukari in Re­gion Nine (2016), the in­ter­cep­tion and sub­se­quent re­lease of an un­named pri­vate ma­rine ves­sel in the sea space of Guyana be­tween Fe­bru­ary 11 and 14, 2017 (2017) and the al­leged plot to as­sas­si­nate the pres­i­dent and how the po­lice han­dled that in­ves­ti­ga­tion (2017).

An in­terim re­port was sub­mit­ted for the Ed­u­ca­tion Sys­tem in­quiry but no fi­nal re­port has been de­liv­ered, although the dead­line has passed.

There was noth­ing to in­di­cate that the other re­ports are be­ing pre­pared for tabling. One in­quiry, a CoI into lands, is still to be com­pleted.

When ques­tioned last Thurs­day, State Min­is­ter Joseph Har­mon in­sisted that the re­ports have been handed over to the Na­tional Assem­bly and that once this was done an of­fi­cial re­lease has oc­curred.

He said in­quiry re­ports are re­leased from time to time and when asked which ones have been re­leased, he said that “all [the re­ports] of those in­quiries have been sent to the Na­tional Assem­bly. Once it goes to the Na­tional Assem­bly, that is of­fi­cial.”

Ob­servers, how­ever, note that it is within the power of the ex­ec­u­tive to re­lease the re­ports to the pub­lic and there is no re­quire­ment for them to be tabled in the Na­tional Assem­bly first.

The par­lia­men­tary li­brary pro­vided this news­pa­per with a list of all doc­u­ments tabled in the Na­tional Assem­bly since the Granger gov­ern­ment took of­fice in May, 2015. A pe­rusal showed that the re­ports of the Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into Guyana Sugar Cor­po­ra­tionVol­ume 1, 2 and 3, were tabled on De­cem­ber 30, 2015 and the Re­port of the Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into the Pub­lic Ser­vice of Guyana was tabled non May 24, 2016.

Most of the other re­ports were leaked to the me­dia.

Jagdeo re­ferred Sun­day Stabroek to a list of ques­tions sub­mit­ted to the Na­tional Assem­bly by Op­po­si­tion Chief Whip Gail Teix­eira at the end of July.

Teix­eira asked that Har­mon ex­plain the sta­tus of each of the CoIs, whether pre­lim­i­nary and fi­nal re­ports have been sub­mit­ted and when they were sub­mit­ted. She also asked the costs in­curred with the con­duct of each of the CoIs, in­clud­ing those, such as the in­quiry into the at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion of the Pres­i­dent, which at the time was not com­pleted, or those that were about to com­mence. The money paid to each com­mis­sioner is ex­pected to be in­cluded in this re­sponse as well as when the re­ports of the com­pleted CoIs will be made pub­lic and laid in the House.

It is ex­pected that the an­swers to these ques­tions will be avail­able when the Na­tional Assem­bly re­sumes sit­ting next month.

Jagdeo stressed that there are pro­vi­sions in the law which makes the re­lease of CoI re­ports manda­tory.

The Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act 2011 guar­an­tees every ci­ti­zen the right of ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, re­quires gov­ern­ment agen­cies and de­part­ments to pub­lish doc­u­ments and pro­vides for the ap­point­ment of a Com­mis­sioner of In­for­ma­tion to reg­u­late data re­quests and re­leases.

Sec­tion 10 of the Act cov­ers re­ports such as those pro­duced at the end of a CoI. Part (1) (b) of this sec­tion refers to the re­lease of “a re­port, or a state­ment con­tain­ing the ad­vice or rec­om­men­da­tions, of a body or en­tity es­tab­lished out­side the pub­lic author­ity un­der a writ­ten law, or by a Min­is­ter of Gov­ern­ment or other pub­lic author­ity for the pur­pose of sub­mit­ting a re­port or re­ports, pro­vid­ing ad­vice or mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions to the pub­lic author­ity or to the re­spon­si­ble Min­is­ter of that pub­lic author­ity.”

A pub­lic author­ity ac­cord­ing to the def­i­ni­tion in the Act in­cludes a Min­istry or a de­part­ment or di­vi­sion of a Min­istry; Lo­cal Demo­cratic Or­gans es­tab­lished un­der the Mu­nic­i­pal and District Coun­cils Act, Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Act, Lo­cal Demo­cratic Or­gans Act; a Re­gional Health Author­ity

es­tab­lished un­der the Re­gional Health Au­thor­i­ties Act 2005; a statu­tory body, re­spon­si­bil­ity for which is as­signed to a Min­is­ter and a Con­sti­tu­tional Com­mis­sion or any other Com­mis­sion es­tab­lished by law

“I would urge peo­ple, if the gov­ern­ment doesn’t want to re­lease them, to use the… Act and re­quest [them] from the Com­mis­sioner of In­for­ma­tion,” Jagdeo stressed, while adding that the PPP/C will sup­port any call made by the pub­lic to have the re­ports re­leased, par­tic­u­larly since they were held at the ex­pense of tax­pay­ers.

Jagdeo said that if a per­son pays for a prod­uct they ought to re­ceive it and said that in this case it is the pub­lic that is pay­ing for the in­quiries and there­fore should be privy to the find­ings. He stressed that the re­ports are not pro­tected by any form of se­crecy leg­is­la­tion. “The law pro­vides ex­plic­itly for them to be re­leased to the pub­lic,” he stressed.

Le­gal op­tions

Jagdeo said that the PPP is pre­pared to take le­gal ac­tion to force gov­ern­ment to make the re­ports pub­lic but he stressed that any ag­grieved ci­ti­zen can take sim­i­lar ac­tion if they so de­sire.

By his es­ti­mate, the in­quiries have cost the coun­try hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars. He told this news­pa­per that half­way through the GuySuCo CoI, gov­ern­ment had al­ready spent ap­prox­i­mately $55 mil­lion. By the end of it, he sus­pected, in ex­cess of $70 mil­lion was spent.

“… I think they prob­a­bly spent up­wards of maybe $400 mil­lion on these CoIs that they are not mak­ing pub­lic, so that’s why we are re­quest­ing the cost,” he said while adding that he is sur­prised at the num­ber of in­quiries held since the Granger ad­min­is­tra­tion took of­fice in 2015.

“I think [they] are an ex­cuse for [not] do­ing hard work. You cre­ate the im­pres­sion that you are busy, you are busy ad­dress­ing a prob­lem by get­ting a cou­ple of peo­ple to meet and study the prob­lem,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Jagdeo, in many cases what is needed is ac­tion. “From past stud­ies and gen­eral dis­cus­sion, you then un­der­stand what the so­lu­tions are al­ready with­out hav­ing to go through this com­plex process of all of these hear­ings, etc.,” he said.

He opined that there hasn’t been a pub­lic out­cry be­cause peo­ple are fed up. “Peo­ple are weary, they are tired talk­ing about these things with this ad­min­is­tra­tion… I think they [the pub­lic] have al­ready con­cluded that they [the gov­ern­ment] are not se­ri­ous about the real is­sues af­fect­ing real peo­ple,” he stressed.

Jagdeo sug­gested that the in­quiries al­low gov­ern­ment to re­main in a “make be­lieve world… to feel that they are solv­ing prob­lems [but] they are not. They are just wast­ing valu­able tax­pay­ers’ money.”

Bhar­rat Jagdeo

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