Civil society gets to input ‘whistle blower’ legislation

GINA, GUYANA, Monday, October 10, 2016

Public consultation on the Witness Protection Bill 2016 and the Protected Disclosures (Whistleblower) Bill 2016, started today at the Pegasus Hotel.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, said it is policy of the government to consult with stakeholders before sending legislation to the National Assembly.

Hon. Basil Williams, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs

Hon. Basil Williams, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs

“These two Bills you would appreciate are among a suite of Bills to address a particular mischief that has crippled this country for a number of years that is the question of corruption,” Williams told those who opted to participate in the consultations.

The Attorney General recalled that President David Granger has said that corruption and bribery have no place in the public service and that the public service must be characterized by persons of integrity impartiality and intelligence

According to Williams, the Bills are in keeping with Guyana’s commitment to intra-regional and international treatises aimed at curtailing corrupt practices in public and private entities and providing witnesses in high profile cases, especially those which may stem from Government’s forensic audits.

Williams said the Bills mark another step towards full compliance with the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, 1996, to which Guyana is a signatory and has ratified.

“The convention requires member states to consider the creation, maintenance and strengthening of the system for the protection of public servants and private citizens who in good faith report acts of corruption to the relevant authorities. Further it is hoped that with the introduction of the Bill Guyana will be better ranked on the Corruption Perception ndex (CPI)than in previous years,” Williams said.

Turning his attention to the Protected Disclosure / Whistle Blower Bill, the Attorney General said that the Bill provides for a programme to protect witnesses and other person and gives effect to the CARICOM agreement establishing the Regional Justice Protection (1999) which came into force in 2006.

According to the Attorney General, the main objectives of the Bill include informing individuals of their rights to disclose acts of corruption or other wrong doings and the protection offered when doing so, providing a safe means to making disclosure of improper conduct, expressing clearly what disclosures are protected and providing appropriate action including protection under the witness protection act.

Underscoring the magnitude of the Bills Williams said wrong doers identified by the government’s forensic audits have not yet faced prosecution because of the inability of the government thus far to offer protection from retribution to prospective witnesses. “In order to have witnesses you must guarantee their protection and that’s what this government is bent on doing,” Williams said.

In brief remarks, High Commissioner of Canada to Guyana, Pierre Giroux, reminded those present that witness protection is an expensive undertaking. He said that it must be adequately budgeted for otherwise it will not succeed.

“It is a complex and costly process. In our system in 1915 – 1916 of a population of 36 million in Canada only…82 cases were submitted to the commissioner and only 12 actually received protection. In forty nine (49) of those cases witness themselves decided not to join the programme because of the complexity of the system…the cost was CA$9.34M or (at today’s rate) GY$1.35 billion,” the High Commissioner said.

Further, High Commissioner Giroux said that in order for the Disclosure Act to succeed it is important for individuals to see the public interest as being more important than the organisation’s interest and encouraged that a code of conduct be developed to aid in the identification of breaches when they occur.

The Draft Bill for Guyana’s witness protection programme is currently being fine-tuned at the Attorney General’s Chambers. The draft Bill which was first brought to the National Assembly by the new government in 2015, provides for the establishment of three agencies to deal with the administrative, investigative and protective aspects.

According to Part II of the Draft Bill, the Administrative Centre will be responsible for the development and management of the Witness Protection Programme. It also bears responsibility for deciding the people to get protection or assistance under the programme and signing a memorandum of understanding between the “client” for protection and the agency, among other things.

Additionally, the administrative arm of the agency is tasked with the provision of documents for the client to establish a new identity whenever necessary, providing financial assistance to the client for meeting costs associated with relocation and ensuring the client gets assistance to ensure self-sustenance among others.

Meanwhile the agency’s investigative arm will be tasked with, among other things, investigating prospective clients of the programme and submitting their findings to the administrative agency. The investigative agency’s assessment must include a valuation of the threat and risk to which the client may be exposed.

The protective arm of the agency of the Witness Protection Programme will be responsible for submitting reports on the suitability of clients, interviewing the client to determine suitability for the programme, conducting a threat and risk assessment, relocating the client for protection and carrying out periodic reviews of the threats and risks among other things.

By Kidackie Amsterdam

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