Whistle blower legislation passed

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…as Opposition dubs the Bill ‘seriously deficient’

The Protected Disclosures Bill was on Thursday passed in the National Assembly even though the Opposition Members of Parliament (MP) dubbed the Bill ‘deficient’ and asked that it to be taken to the Select Committee.

Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira

Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira argued that “the bill is deficient” in its provisions as it has not been upgraded in accordance with legislation of similar nature worldwide.

Teixeira also questioned the procedure for the selection process in determining who would be a part of the proposed Commission.

“We’ve never had a process where people jump up and we vote,” she said.

She also advised Government to have the Bill taken to the Select Committee, as “it needs some serious work.”

“The bill is made in such a way that it is expensive and unnecessary…The present Bill as is, is seriously deficient…We can come up with a much better Bill that will enhance public trust, facilitate and encourage people to come forward with disclosures, [and] protect people under the Public Disclosures Act,” she asserted.

According to PPP MP, Gillian Persaud, while the bill speaks of “good practices” and “transparency”, methods of raising public awareness, employee education on the matter and the seriousness of the bill need to made.

“We need to make sure the employees understand that this is a serious bill,” she said.

Opposition MP Harry Gill

Another Opposition Member of Parliament, Harry Gill, told the House that unless the clause which is mandated to protect “whistle blowers” is fully implemented, this “bill will be difficult for Government to implement.”

He alluded to the incident surrounding the transfer of Nurse Sherilyn Marks from the Fort Wellington Hospital, in Region 5 last year, after she reported on the Region 5 Councillor, Carol Joseph.

She had accused Joseph of being addicted to a pain killing medication and revealed that she was the one being tasked with administering the injections- in excess of the prescribed amount.

Marks later received a letter transferring her to the Bath/Experiment Health Centre.

“The Protected Disclosure Commission must be entirely free from any …interference from the Ministry of Legal Affairs,” he stated.

PPP MP, Joseph Hamilton declared that while he had nothing against the Bill, he felt it necessary to highlight some weaknesses he observed.

He told the House that in his introduction of the piece of legislation, Legal Affairs Minister, Basil Williams did not relate the cost of establishing the Commission.

“(There were) no provisions made in the budget to operationally use this Commission… So we’re putting the cart before the horse,” he posited.

He further compared it to the Public Procurement Commission which he said initially begged “ah lodging” before gaining an actual office.

Hamilton questioned also what provisions were put in place for “malicious reports.”

Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan

In his rebuttal to the Opposition members, Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan expressed agreement with the need for public awareness.

“It will give the public knowledge about what this bill is all about and what they can do and cannot do,” he said.

He posited that while he also agreed that the operationalization of this bill [or any bill, for that matter] will be costly, it will be far less expensive as opposed to not having the legislation passed.

“We realise that it is an international obligation, democracy, as you know would appreciate, makes a lot of sense but costs a lot of dollars,” he told the House.

Ramjattan stated, among other things, that regardless of the criticisms coming from the Opposition, “at least we have started the construction…the journey has begun.”

The Protected Disclosures Bill 2017 is an act which sets out to combat corruption and other wrong doings 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.

Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, Basil Williams

According to the Minister Williams the Bill allows an employee who reasonably believes that his employer or another employee of that employer has committed, is committing or is likely to commit an improper conduct, to make a disclosure of the improper conduct to the Commission.

In the case where for any reason a person, qualified to make a disclosure is fearful of making the disclosure to the Commission, he may, in writing, authorise any person to make the disclosure on his behalf.

Among other clauses, the act applies to any disclosure made “after the coming into operation of this act where the improper conduct to which the disclosure relates occurred twelve years immediately before the coming into operation of this Act or occurs after the coming into operation of this Act.”

The Commission established under this Act will consist of a Chairman -to be appointed by the Minister- and four other members- who hold or have held the office of a Judge of the Court of Appeal or High Court or is qualified for same.

Also, four other members of the Commission shall be appointed by the Minister after being elected by the National Assembly from a nominee of the either the Integrity Commission, Private Sector Commission, Guyana Bar Association, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Guyana, Guyana Human Rights Association, Guyana Trades Union Congress and Guyana Police Association, being a retired police officer who was not below the rank of Inspector.

Furthermore, with regards to the procedure of investigations, the Commission may adopt the procedure it considers appropriate to the circumstances of a particular case, hear the person of whom the disclosure of improper conduct is made, obtain any information, document or thing from any person and make other inquiries the Commission thinks fit.

Additionally, the Commission may request the assistance of experts and enforcement agencies to assist in any investigation before or in obtaining any information, or document from an employer or a person and the experts and enforcement agencies shall, subject to and in accordance with their internal arrangements, do all that is necessary and within their power to assist the Commission in the completion of its investigation.

This piece of legislation also caters for the penalties of offences ranging form obstructing members of the Commission and staff in addition to penalties for falsifying reports or documents.

This Bill was initially laid in Parliament on November 17, 2017. (Ramona Luthi)

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