Finance Secretary warns whistleblowers

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Whistleblowers within the public service have been warned that there will be consequences if they are caught revealing information pertaining to the government’s business or political affairs.

Finance Secretary Michael Joseph sounded the warning in a memo to staffers on Monday, July 13.

The memo was addressed to all employees at the Ministry of Finance.

The Finance Secretary said that the issue of several staff members involved in public discussions about government business and political affairs on social media and other platforms was brought to his attention. He reminded the staffers of their responsibilities of being a public servant.

“We should conduct ourselves with regards to the tenets of confidentiality and objectivity; being the state of keeping or being kept secret or private of our knowledge of Government business; and a lack of bias, judgment, or prejudice while performing our duties competently,” he noted in the memo.

The document, seen by this publication, warned of disciplinary actions if any staff member is found in breach of the Public Service Rules.

Joseph, in citing the Public Service Rules in relation to the conduct of Public Servants, noted: “not at any time during his or her engagement make public or disclose any person any information as to the practise or as to any other matters concerning the Government’s business, which may come to his knowledge in the course of his engagement and or involve in any political discussion whereby the operations of the Government as a whole comes into the discourse.”

In 2018, the APNU/AFC Government came in for harsh criticism and was confronted head-on with its treatment of a whistleblower, who was transferred after revealing the alleged drug abuse of a coalition councillor, Carol Joseph.

Sherlyn Marks, the nurse in question, was initially attached to a West Coast Berbice hospital but was transferred with immediate effect during the last week in April 2017, after she had made complaints against former APNU/AFC Councillor Carol Joseph.

She claimed that the former Councillor had been going to the hospital for an excessive daily dose of the painkiller pethidine. The nurse has accused the regional administration of targeting her.

Nurse Marks, who said she filed complaints twice, claimed she refused to administer the 100 ml dose to Joseph, who would turn up daily to receive it.

She said she received a letter of transfer from the regional office after being scolded for going to the media with her complaints. Some two days later, Joseph reportedly resigned from her post and the party.

Persons and organisations, including the Transparency Institute of Guyana Incorporated, have been critical of the incident and the potential repercussions for transparency and accountability. TIGI had referred to the case by noting that Marks was bludgeoned into oblivion; or worse, “for exposing the abuse of power.”

TIGI had affirmed that it does not support breaking the laws, but had added that when abuse of power is done with impunity while persons making disclosures are made to feel the consequence, it is mere lip service for those in authority to proclaim support for whistleblowers.

The National Assembly, in 2018, passed the Protected Disclosures Bill which sets out to combat corruption and other wrongdoings by encouraging and facilitating disclosures of improper conduct in the public and private sectors.

It also seeks to protect those persons making those disclosures from detrimental action and establish the Protected Disclosures Commission to receive, investigate or otherwise deal with disclosures of improper conduct and to provide for other related matters.