Minister in the Ministry of Finance [Bishop Edghill]: I stand to lend support to the motion as moved by the Hon. Prime Minister. I have listened to the presentations of Members of both sides of the House and it has been quite an informing discourse.
I would like to posit that once we are going to be talking about integrity, the last thing that we should be talking about is coercive mechanisms for compliance because integrity should be a personal decision and choice. I say this to say my own experience as a young man, I think I was just over eleven years of age, when I entered into secondary school, I had an English teacher who was a Presbyterian Minister and his name was Mr. Sawh. Following the convention of giving teachers nicknames, one afternoon, after school, Mr. Sawh was going home and we troubled him, including myself, by calling him “hammer.” If his name was “Sawh”, we had to find a nickname and the nickname was “hammer”. The next morning Mr. Sawh, I guess, paid some extra interest in my well-being as a youth, called me to the office and asked a question. He said, “Young Edghill, were you calling me names yesterday afternoon?” My first response was “no Sir”, because I feared the detention, I feared the lashes and I feared the sending for my parents. Mr. Sawh, who was more than just an English teacher, took the time to lecture me…[Laughter from Members of the Opposition.]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, could you compose yourselves, please. It is beyond [inaudible] of a normal House.
Bishop Edghill: …on the issue of integrity and I grew up with that understanding. Your truthfulness, your honesty, your impeccable character and the way you offer yourself to the public must not be based upon the punishments that could be meted out if you do not comply. They must be based upon personal choices and personal decisions. I believe that every Member of this honourable House who has offered himself or herself to be elected as a public official, when asked the people of Guyana to make him or her their representatives to lead this nation, to make laws and make decisions that we will live by and we expect them to live by, was holding himself or herself up to a very high standard.
I would be happy to leave this House tonight, having listened to the presentations coming from the various ones about the correctness or incorrectness of the wordings of specific clauses, that, at least, one thing we agree on: that as public officials, we will offer ourselves to the people of Guyana with the highest level of honesty and integrity, upholding probity in public life. I would think that that is the intent of this motion and I would hope that we all will go in that direction.
Many things could be said, but I want to say two things. I have conferred with a very devout Muslim, who sits on this side of the House, concerning the similarities in Christianity, and many of us in this House practise that religion. We pay tithes. The pastor or the officials of the church do not calculate a person tithe. That person does that himself or herself in the fear of God. In Islam, Muslims pay zakat. The Imam, the Haji or the head of the organisation does not make a demand of what it should be. Persons make that calculation in all honesty as it relates to their income and they declare and give.
It talks about operating from a high ground of individual responsibility, voluntary compliance and moral suasion. I would think that the people of Guyana expect no less from the honourable men and women who sit in this august House.
I read the motion and I have read the amendments. I have listened, and my training, as well, has thought me to hear what is not said. I listened with zeal and enthusiasm to Members of the other side of the House demanding that public officials live lives that should stand scrutiny and that we should be free from corruption. May I suggest that this motion is designed to achieve that and to encourage that kind of behaviour. I would expect that all of us will support that.
For eight years I held a constitutional office. That Commission is not listed on the Schedule as a Commission to make declarations, but I have made declarations. The Hon. Prime Minister, who was the subject Minister of a corporation that I chaired, …We discussed from what level of managers should be making declarations. In as much as the Schedule asks for the General Managers, Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), the Hon. Prime Minister and I developed, in that corporation, from what level of managers…, even beyond what the Schedule required, they were making declarations.
I think there is a realisation in the nation that once there are people who are occupying public office and they are in the positions that they can influence and benefit from those decisions that they make they should offer themselves and declare - “I have done my job, based upon my oath, without fear and without favour, and I have done so without ill-gotten gain.” This motion seeks to encourage that kind of behaviour.
I do not think that we want to sit in this House to point fingers at individuals in this House or individuals outside of this House to determine who is corrupt and who is not. I think that if we get into that kind of a discourse we will be treading on very dangerous grounds. One of the things that we will be doing is casting judgement before knowing the facts. I think that as a nation we have done that. What the Integrity Commission Act puts on the spotlight is that if a public official is challenged, he or she could come under scrutiny, based on the declarations that he or she would have made, to examine if it was accurate, truthful, or not. No amount of excuses could justify not making such a declaration.
A man who gets off in court because of a technicality of a procedure, or process, or by the skilful arguments of a good defence attorney, does not remove his personal guilt. Even if he is acquitted by a jury, he walks out of that courtroom a free man but bound by his own guilt.
While some of us could be able to make the argument about why we should and why we should not, as individuals we must be able to face the public in any community, at any time and answer any question with a straight face, speaking, as my English teacher, Mr. Sawh, taught us, from integrity, telling the truth.
I want to ask of us that since we would have heard from the various ones, including my colleague, the Hon. Member Ms. Gail Teixeira, about even some errors in the wording, what we should be seeking to do is to ensure that the intent is preserved in this motion and that we all commit ourselves to walk in the light. We must walk in the light. The light is what is very important because there must be no dark and grey areas.
I would want to also ask of us that we recognise that the makers of the law must also be keepers of the law. We must live by the standards that we ourselves expect others to live by. I remember in the sacred scriptures, Jesus spoke to a group of people and he was saying to them that they are demanding of people to carry weights and burdens that they of their own selves are not prepared to carry. He likened that category of persons, who made demands of people to carry weights and burdens that they of themselves are not prepared to carry, as whitened sepultures with dead men bones or beautifully painted graves but inside are filled with the stench of rotten bones.
The people of Guyana want to ensure that when we speak about the managers, the customs officer, the police officer and the public official that they also hear this National Assembly says that the men and women of this honourable House are prepared to live by the law which they expect them to live by. That is the intent of this motion.
Once one comes into public life, one’s life becomes an open book. People are able to read every page. There is no way that one can be in public life and hide. The fact that we are going to be open books where people are going to read every page, I think it is our responsibility to ensure that when people read they are going to be able to see and to experience that we are people who are walking in the light.
I am simply asking us, Mr. Speaker and Hon. Members of this House, that there must be no ambivalence and sand dancing on this particular matter. This goes to the crux of what the people of Guyana expect. We cannot be selective in wanting investigations in certain places; we want certain individuals to be investigated and we are not prepared to subject ourselves, in the first instance, to public scrutiny.
I was particularly concerned because I remember, as Chairman of the Guyana Council of Churches, when the then President wrote and asked for a nominee to be on the Integrity Commission. The Rev. Nigel Hazel was nominated to be a member of that Commission and he has served that Commission with distinction. I recall, apart from Bishop George being named the Chairman by the President, that the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG) was asked to name a representative and the distinguished Member Haji Faizal Ferouz was that member. I also recall that the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sahba was asked to name a representative and the honourable Pandit Rabindranauth Persaud served as a Commissioner.
When I read the Act and recognised that the President could appoint people from the fields of law, accountancy and it also states from any other discipline, I think that there was an acknowledgment, by the President, and I would say, by extension, the people of Guyana, that our religious leaders are supposed to be torch-bearers. As a result of that, it sought to bring to bear that some of our religious leaders of the highest order would be the first set of Commissioners who would deal with this whole issue of who would deal with the issue of ensuring probity in public life.
It was very disheartening to hear the comments and some of the suggestions that were being made. While most of us come from various communities where we uphold certain morals and ethical values, which are based upon our culture as well as our religion, it is that we would be offering questions as it relates to the composition of the very Commission. This seems to be an ongoing trend that is quite disheartening and could almost send the wrong signal that once we do not agree with a name, the next language we hear is that it is not duly constituted.
I think when I read the amendments to the motion, which is being offered by the Hon. Member Mrs. Deborah Backer, where there must be the inclusion of a duly constituted Commission, I started asking questions because, as far as I know, the Integrity Commission was a duly constituted Commission where the Commissioners were properly in place, and while there was a duly constituted Commission, with Commissioners in place, Members did not comply with the law. The issue here is that I am saying that we should not look for technicalities because I do not think that the people of Guyana would forgive us by saying we did not file or make our declarations, because it was not duly constituted. A duly constituted body is a body that is put in place in keeping with the law or the necessary legislation.
As I close, I would want to ask of us that, first of all, the intent of this motion be upheld, and I think the Hon. Member Rev. Gilbert spoke to the spirit and I heard people made light of that, because it would appear that levity is becoming the order of the day, but seriousness must not be lost. The intent of this motion is that all of us must agree that maintaining probity in public life is an essential and that we must all sign on to it. I am asking for that signing on, despite of the disagreement that we may have, that the intent be kept.
The second thing is that if there is need for amendments, I have absolutely no problem with the amendments, the spirit and intent must not be lost.
Thirdly, even if there is no penalties…, because the motion, basically, asks for naming and shaming and to push people into compliance, because the whole thing of printing in the Official Gazette or the newspaper has to do with naming and shaming, hoping that people will bring things in to the public realm and we would all comply.
I would think that all of us should seriously consider lending our support to a motion that leads this House in a form of a resolution that all of us would be signing on, in public view, saying to the people who elected us that, as we sit in this House and as we hold our various responsibilities, and as we make decisions, we are going to be free from undue influence. We will not subject ourselves to the lobbyist who may offer the opportunity for ill-gotten wealth because we know it does not last. [Mrs. Backer: How do you know that?] It is because wealth got without labour shall soon diminish. We must offer ourselves as people who would ensure that the special interest groups must think several times. Mr. Speaker, permit me to say this: It is my belief that before someone can offer an inducement to a public official there must be a reason at the back of that person’s head that person might accept it.
Mr. Speaker: That is my belief too.
Bishop Edghill: It is my belief that with us supporting this motion and agreeing unanimously in this House, we will be sending the signal to the entire lobbyists, the special interest groups and all the others that they are coming at the wrong door because we are people who want to walk in the light and we will uphold the highest level of probity in public life.
I thank you very much Mr. Speaker. [Applause]