As conflict of interest concerns continue to rage over Minister Simona Broomes’ mining interests and current oversight of the mining sector, newly-appointed President of the local corruption watchdog, Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc (TIGI), Troy Thomas said the entire situation was embarrassing, and supported calls for the minister to be transferred to another ministry.
Broomes’ mining interests came under scrutiny over the weekend after information surfaced suggesting she was granted another Mining Permit H43/MP/000 by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC).
However, the Minister within the Ministry of Natural Resources denied this, noting that the Simona Broomes mentioned in the documents which were made public is her daughter who shares the same name.
She said her mining interests were transferred to her two children, thus removing any cloud of conflict of interest that may linger. When contacted on Tuesday, Thomas said that TIGI did not discuss the Broomes issue thus far.
“This issue we have not discussed,” he stated, but promised to hold talks with the TIGI executive on the issue soon. However, when asked about a personal perspective on the issue, Thomas said that while he recognised that the minister has found herself in a tough spot, she will at some point have to make a decision.
“Because if mining is all I have been doing all my life, then it becomes a choice between that and being minister and I see that from a personal standpoint as being something harsh,” he conceded, but agreed that Broomes’ presence in the ministry, which has oversight of the mining sector, does create a conflict of interest..
“They might also argue that she has expertise in that area, but I am not sure I will buy that, because ultimately she is working in that area and Guyana is a small country and the contacts with officials will be very close, so I think it does create a conflict of interest from a personal standpoint,” he stated.
Thomas also said he supported the position that the Minister should be reassigned to another Ministry, which could significantly reduce the accusations of a conflict of interest.
“It might indeed be better if she has to be a minister, to go somewhere else, because no matter how you turn, it doesn’t look good,” he opined.
Last Sunday, two other anti-corruption advocates suggested that the Minister be transferred from the Natural Resources Ministry.
Political commentator Dr Henry Jeffrey contended that the only way concerns of conflict of interest could be eliminated was by completely removing the Minister from the Natural Resources Ministry.
“I don’t think Minister Broomes understands clearly what conflict of interest means. I can understand her dilemma being in mining all this time and you know it’s a family business, and she is now in the Ministry involved with mining. What she should be asking is for Government to remove her from there and put her somewhere else. She could be in another Ministry,” Dr Jeffrey stated.
Another political commentator and economist Ramon Gaskin reasoned that Broomes’ decision to transfer her mining operations to her children did not put to rest conflict of interest concerns.
“That doesn’t solve the problem because when the children go into Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to do business, they know that the children’s mother is the Minister, so that really don’t solve the problem,” he explained.
Despite these concerns of conflict of interest, there has been no official statement from Government regarding this issue.
However, Broomes told a news conference Monday that she was not moved by this “deliberate attempt to besmirch” her character and those of her children.
The Minister, who has spent some 28 years as a miner, said that while her children continue to operate in the mining sector, there is no preferential treatment, as rather her children were “toeing the line”.
Broomes boasted that prior to becoming a Minister, she maintained a spotless character and it was her intention to continue to maintain that character and leave a legacy of transparency and accountability.
“It is not an easy task, but I have committed. I am one of the female Ministers that will stand tall and I will not buckle,” she said.
Some transparency and accountability advocates are maintaining that the Minister’s decision to transfer her mining interests to her children do not remove the cloud of conflict of interest, since they are in essence managing her business.
They also suggested that the Minister was in breach of the Government’s highly-touted Code of Conduct for Ministers, parliamentarians and other public officials, even before its implementation.
A transparency and accountability advocate recalled an almost similar situation when the daughter of then Minister of Human Services under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Administration, Jennifer Webster was forced to resign as a director from Natural Globe Inc, a recycling company that won the bid to develop a plant here, after conflict of interest arguments were raised by Broomes’ party while in Opposition. (Guyana Times)