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Code of Conduct for Public Officials awaiting Opposition’s input; Jagdeo says it’s “a piece of crap”

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As a result of allegations made against Ministers of Government and other public officials, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon was on Thursday (March 23, 2017) asked for an update on the ‘Code of Conduct for all Ministers of Government, Members of the National Assembly and Public Office Holders.’ This document was drafted in November 2015.

Harmon told media operatives that the document was sent to the Leader of the Opposition and some civic organisations for their input, however, no response was received.

“As of this morning we have not received formal comments from any of these bodies,” Minister Harmon said at his weekly Post Cabinet media briefing.

Shortly after this disclosure, Leader of the Opposition, Peoples’ Progressive Party, Bharrat Jagdeo made it clear that he has no intention of replying to the document titled “Re: Amendment to Integrity Commission Act and Revision of Code of Conduct” which he also distributed to media operatives.

Jagdeo described the draft Code of Conduct as “a piece of crap” which he does not intend to treat with any respect.

The Opposition Leader said “We are not going to treat this piece of crap with any respect. They disrespected us by leaving us out (of the drafting of the document), and we would not respond.”

He also expressed concerns with the push by the Government to amend the Integrity Commission Act noting that “(They are) not strengthening the Act to track declarations and public officials assets but undermining it by giving the President Executive powers to go after people and discipline people.”

The Integrity Commission Act, which makes provision for the establishment of an Integrity Commission, orders that public officers disclose their financial assets and liabilities on or before June 30, each year.

Jagdeo said, “also now Minister of State, Mr. Harmon will now have executive authority under the Integrity Commission Act.”

According to Article 12 of the proposed Amendments; Breach of Code, “the authority for ensuring the observance of the provisions of this code shall rest with the President in the case of Vice-Presidents or Ministers, and the Minister of State in the case of other persons in public life.” It went on to state that a person in public life may be removed from office when he or she contravenes any of the provisions of the code.

Jagdeo, therefore, questioned, “Who will discipline them when they misbehave?”

The Office of the Prime Minister has lead responsibility for governance under which the Code of Conduct falls.

While this document remains a draft, Harmon said: “if the Leader of the Opposition or anybody for that matter has information which seeks to impugn the character of a minister, then, in fact, they should send something in writing to the government.”

According to Harmon, Ministers are currently guided by a Ministerial Code of Service which the Government put in place after it acceded to office in May 2015.

“It lists several values many of which find themselves into the Code of Conduct and those values are related to accountability, dignity in office, diligence, duty, honour, integrity, loyalty, objectivity, responsibility and transparency,” he pointed out.

The draft Code of Conduct seeks to “assist Ministers and Members of Parliament and Public office holders in the discharge of their obligations to their constituents and the public at large.” It covers several areas including the acceptance of gifts, conflicts of interest, Entertainment, Misuse of Office, Handling of Classified or Proprietary Information, Property and other Resources of the Government, Gambling, Special Advisors and Outside Employment. It can be accessed here.

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