PPP objects to ministerial powers in Whistleblower Bill


Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) on Thursday objected to several clauses of the draft whistleblower legislation including the overarching ministerial powers and called on the government to make certain changes to the bill before making it law.

The proposed whistleblower legislation – formally known as the Protected Disclosures Bill – encourages persons to disclose information regarding misconduct in the public service with the knowledge that they will be protected.

The draft legislation proposes the establishment of a Protected Disclosures Commission tasked with the responsibility to receive, investigate and otherwise deal with disclosures of improper conduct.

But the subject minister – in this case, the Attorney General Basil Williams – will be empowered to give general directions to the commission.

Opposition Parliamentarian Harry Gill objected those powers, noting that it compromises the integrity of the commission.

“We need to strengthen this Bill to preserve the independence and integrity of the Protected Disclosures Commission and allow this body to function without giving the minister the body to give directions which can easily be abused to protect a party comrade of minister of government,” he posited, calling for the section to be deleted in its entirety to prevent political interference.

Gill questioned “what happens when a public servant blows the whistle on a minister who is involved in corruption or a member of staff who has evidence linking a minister to discrimination, harassment, and verbal abuse in the workforce? You may recall that not so long ago, the minister himself was the subject of an investigation of alleged harassment and verbal abuse were levied against him by a formal Deputy Solicitor General.”

Gill was referring to the case of the Deputy Solicitor General Prithma Kissoon who alleged discrimination and abuse against Williams – who has since denied the claims.

On the other hand, Opposition MP Adrian Anamayya contended that there is no need for the establishment of a new commission to deal with these cases.

“On the face of it, it looks like more jobs for the boys. There’s no need, in my humble view, for a commission; it could be handled by another agency: the Police Force, the FIU (Financial Intelligence Unit), or there are so many agencies set up, you don’t need this agency here,” he asserted.

The parliamentarians called on the government to disclose an estimation of how much this commission will cost the treasury annually.

Another area of contention, which was highlighted by parliamentarian Joe Hamilton, is the fact that the draft legislation is silent on penalties for persons who make malicious reports.

“The Bill did not deal with the issue of malicious reporting, at all!” he declared.

Hamilton contended that “we couldn’t present a legislation where we are asking citizens to come forward and to report people for instances of corruption and criminal offences and we take no cognizance of the fact that people might have axe to grind and we have malicious reporting coming forward.”
Opposition Member Gillian Burton-Persaud also raised some concerns about the bill in its current state while Government Parliamentarians Charandass Persaud and Khemraj Ramjattan made presentations in support of the draft legislation.

Attorney General Basil Williams told the National Assembly that the Protected Disclosures Bill forms part of a suite of bills and acts that government has put out in an effort to combat corruption.

“The government has taken an irreversible course to combat the scourge of corruption in the Cooperative Republic of Guyana,” he stated.

Up to press time, the debate was still ongoing. The draft legislation can be found here: http://parliament.gov.gy/chamber-business/bill-status/protected-disclosures-bill-2017/


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