-whistleblowers now offered protection with passage of Protected Disclosures Bill
WHISTLEBLOWERS who raise concerns about malpractices in the workplace by officials or employers, will now enjoy the full protection of the state with the passage of the Protected Disclosures Bill 2017.
The Bill, which was piloted by Attorney General (AG) and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, was passed unopposed in the National Assembly on Thursday evening. The Bill is now awaiting the assent of the President before it becomes law.
According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the Bill aims to combat corruption and other wrongdoings in the public and private sector by encouraging and facilitating specified disclosures of improper conduct.
Further, the Bill seeks to protect persons making those disclosures from detrimental actions; and to establish the Protected Disclosures Commission which will receive, investigate and deal with disclosures of improper conduct and other connected matters.
AG Williams, who provided an overview of the Bill, referenced a commencement provision in the Bill which allows the Minister of Legal Affairs to trigger the operationalizing of the Act, after it is assented to.
“In doing so, we trust that corruption in all its forms and state assets, in whatever nature, will be safe and secure from henceforth” a hopeful AG Williams said.
However, the Bill was not passed without some amount of criticisms from the political opposition.
Peoples’ Progressive Party (PPP) Member of Parliament (MP) Adrian Anamayah agreed that such legislation was needed to combat corruption, but questioned whether the “best model” had been adopted.
Minister Williams clarified later in the debate that the Bill was a Model Bill which straddles several countries, in CARICOM and Latin America, and it had to be adaptive to Guyana. He said that the “best model” could not have been “adopted” as was suggested by Anamayah, since it needed to take the needs of the country into consideration.
He also mentioned the drafting of the Bill, which he boasted, was done by an “experienced team”.
“We had a very experienced team dealing with this Bill at the Chambers. A comprehensive study of best practices was done” the AG said. With the Bill providing for a Commission to deal with reports of improper conduct, Anamayah also questioned the need for such a body when other countries did not have it. Anamayah was supported by the Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira, who questioned the composition of the Commission and hinted at political intervention. The Commission will comprise a Chairman who will be appointed by the Minister, and four other members.
The Chairman must be someone who is or has been a Judge or is qualified to be appointed as a Judge, while the other four members are to be appointed by the Minister after being elected by the National Assembly. They will be drawn from either: the 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.
Several other PPP MPs raised concerns about the minister having the control to appoint and direct the work of the commission, when the Bill was intended to have an independent commission. “What if we have a case where a complaint is brought against the minister himself? What then would the commission do, given that their directives can legally come from the minister? It defeats the purpose” Teixeira decried. She called for the Bill to be resent to a special select committee for further fine-tuning as she, nor her colleagues, could support it in its current form.
However, AG Williams was keen to note that government held “massive consultations,” and massive public education campaigns were conducted. “There were ample opportunities for changes to be made and recommendations to be made. Changes were made over time based on recommendations that came in” he said, refusing to support the call by Teixeira for it to be resent to committee.
Concerns were also raised about financing for the Commission and its staff by PPP MPs. But these were dismissed by Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan who offered that “You cannot have your cake and eat it too”. Ramjattan used the expression to illustrate that the opposition had been calling for the government to act in relation to witness protection, and when it has done so, they are now complaining about costs. “If we look at the cost factor, we must understand what is the cost attached to not having this Act in place. And if we examine it, we will see that the absence of it will cost the state more.
There is a social value to people speaking out and it strengthens the fight against corruption and so if that will cost money, then there is nothing we can do about that. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. We have to be prepared to spend to see improvements in the country” Minister Ramjattan said.
He added too that the legislation was needed as it satisfies Guyana’s international obligations. The successful passage of this Bill moves the country towards full compliance with the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (1996).