as accusations of conflict of interest continued to be levelled against Junior Minister of Natural Resources Simona Broomes over her mining interests and current oversight of the mining sector, the minister came out to defend her integrity and declared that she did nothing wrong by transferring her mining interests to her two children.
Broomes’ mining interest 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.
However, the Minister during a news conference at her Brickdam office on Monday morning, claimed that what is being pedalled in the media is part of a “deliberate attempt to besmirch” her character and that of her children.
“Why would one want to drag my children through the mud, my children have committed no crime,” she declared and clarified that no new mining permit was granted but rather it was a transfer of her dredge to her
son, and daughter whose name is also Simona Broomes.
“All I have done is transfer a dredge that was in existence for decades. It has nothing to do with a permit… I have done nothing wrong,” the minister declared, adding that she was not responding to any individual attack on her, but rather was just giving clarity to the Guyanese people.
“I think that what is circulating out there at this time it is deliberate attempt to besmirch me,” said Broomes.
The minister who spent some 28 years as a miner said that while her children continue to operate in the mining sector, there is no preferential treatment, rather, her children are “towing the line.”
She noted that should a situation arise which could be deemed a conflict of interest, it will not be handled by her, but will be passed to senior Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman.
Broomes boasted that prior to becoming a minister, she maintained a spotless character and it is 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.
But, while the minister is maintaining there is no conflict of interest since her mining interest are now being handled by her children, many still believe that the fact she is a government minister and more so responsible for the mining sector, it is already a factor that could influence decision in her children’s favour as they remain in the industry.
Some transparency and accountability advocates are maintaining that the minister’s decision to transfer her mining interests to her children does not remove the cloud of conflict of interest, since they are in essence managing her business.
Many say that Broomes seems to be in breach of the government’s highly-touted Code of Conduct for Ministers, Parliamentarians and other public officials, even before its implementation.
The Draft Code of Conduct says that, “a conflict of interest situation arises when the private interests of the public office holder compete or conflict with the interests of the State.”
“Private interests” mean both the financial and personal interests of the official and staff or those of their connections including, family and other relations; personal friends; other companies or business interests which they hold or own (both in part or in whole); other clubs and societies to which they belong; and any person to whom they owe a favour or are obligated in any way.
On Sunday, political commentator Dr Henry Jeffery contended that the only way those concerns can be eliminated is 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.
Meanwhile, another political commentator and economist Ramon Gaskin reasoned that Broomes’ decision to transfer her mining operations to her children does 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.
Gaskin suggested that the best way to settle the conflict of interest concerns is to set up a blind trust: “You don’t hear from them and they don’t hear from you.
They just running it for you and you have nothing to do with it. That’s how you deal with those kinds of situations. Not by giving it to your children and all that nonsense, that doesn’t solve the problem.”
A blind trust protects an investor from charges of conflict of interest and other improprieties because its specific assets and trading practices are unknown to the investor.
In modern societies, corporate employees and public officials often use blind trusts to avoid charges of insider trading and corruption, respectively.
Despite these allegations against the minister, there has been no official statement from government regarding this issue.