The Government, last evening, voted to significantly amend a motion presented by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) to have all parliamentarians make public their tax returns to the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) over the last 10 years, arguing that such a move would violate privacy.
In essence, instead of passing a motion to demand Members of Parliament (MPs) put under public scrutiny their income tax returns filed to the GRA and all assets declared to the Integrity Commission over the last 10 years, the amended motion, as passed by the Government using its majority in the House, requested parliamentarians to comply with the existing legislation which stipulates that everyone must file their income tax returns and declare their assets to the Integrity Commission.
According to a Devina Samaroo report published in today’s Guyana Times, it all started when PPP/C MP Juan
Edghill, in a powerful presentation, introduced the motion to the National Assembly, on the basis of five critical grounds.
Edghill underscored that an endorsement of the motion would mean that all parliamentarians were agreeing to implement greater levels of transparency and accountability.
Noting that he expected no one to vote against the motion, Edghill explained that the motion underlined an enhancement of public confidence in public officials; ensured there were honesty and uprightness in public officials; secured integrity of public officials; created the platform for a change in the culture of Guyanese politics; and was the strongest anti-corruption mechanism that could be put into place at this time.
Edghill, therefore, charged that no one, if they were genuinely serious about being accountable and transparent, should vote against the motion.
“Every ‘no’ vote in this House is a declaration that ‘my walk is not consistent with my talk’… (It means) ‘I bluff you, I duped you, I fool you and I am not sincere… I give you fancy talk and I am not prepared to live to those standards,” the parliamentarian proclaimed to loud heckling from the Government benches.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo subsequently took the floor, setting the tone for Government MPs to shoot down the motion.
He argued that the motion was nothing but a “massive political diversion” from “what is really necessary” to unearth corruption.
He contended that the motion was ‘inadmissible’ because it was not in accordance with the Income Tax Act.
“You come with subterfuge to the Parliament: the language of the motion that says the law says what the law did not say… you cannot conspire or agree to an illegality or commit an illegality. The Income Tax law requires the filing of returns for a period of up to seven years. This motion is asking for a declaration of return of a period beyond what a law says you should file,” Nagamootoo asserted.
Moreover, he contended that corruption would not be caught under the Income Tax Act but rather under the Integrity Act whereby all public officials were required to declare their assets to the Integrity Commission.
Notably, since the establishment of this Act in 2000, all public officials are stipulated by law to declare their assets; however, there are allegations that some have failed to do so.
In response to the Prime Minister, Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira debunked Nagamootoo’s entire argument by explaining that the motion proposed was simply for an amendment to take effect to allow MPs to publicly declare their income taxes and assets.
Several other MPs including PPP/C’s Nigel Dharamlall and Charles Ramson Jr and Government Member Valerie Patterson-Sharpe took the floor to contribute to the debate.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, in his contribution, explained that notwithstanding the Income Tax Act stipulating that returns must be filed for a period of up to seven years, the National Assembly has the power to pass legislation to give effect to the motion in order to set the bar higher for all public officials.
He contended in response to taunts from the Government benches that it was no excuse to assert that if such an action was not taken in the past, there was no merit in doing so now.
Jagdeo also challenged, “If the corruption was in the past under the PPP, would you not be anxious for those PPP/C members to declare…if you are so perfect, then you would not have nothing to worry about.”
Jagdeo also proposed a public declaration of all assets to the Integrity Commission given that Nagamootoo had contended that this was where corruption would be caught.
Following Jagdeo’s presentation was Government MP Raphael Trotman, who lashed back at the PPP/C over the issue of confidentiality. Trotman reminded that the PPP/C argued strongly against the move by Government to bestow upon the GRA the power to access personal data should the need arise. According to Trotman, the PPP/C cried that personal data would be exposed and it ought to not happen.
“How is it now, just two weeks after, the very thing you are asking us not to do two weeks ago, you are asking us to do now?” Trotman rebutted.
At this point, the debate was rounding up and in accordance with convention, Edghill rose to conclude the debate on the motion.
However, Nagamootoo was agitated by Edghill’s conclusion and requested to respond to Edghill in accordance to a Standing Order.
This move prompted all PPP/C MPs to walk out of the Chambers, and they only returned when it was time to vote on the motion.
The Government MPs voted against the motion and in the process, proposed amendments to the motion for the National Assembly to support the enforcement of the legal requirement for all MPs to file their income tax returns and make declarations to the Integrity Commission.
This proposal was protested and eventually saw Edghill calling for his motion to be withdrawn, arguing that the amendments significantly changed the intent of the original motion.
The Government MPs declined the withdrawal request and at the end of the debate, succeeded in passing the amended motion.