Whistleblower legislation in jeopardy – Manickchand
Amended Cyber Crime Bill
…hauls Govt over coals for treatment of transferred Nurse
The passage of the Protected Disclosures Bill counts for nothing when one considers the controversial Cyber Crime (Amendment) Bill, as persons who make unauthorised disclosures face as many as five years in jail if tried and convicted.
This is according to Opposition parliamentarian Priya Manickchand, who, in a heated presentation when the Bill was debated on Friday, decried the fact that the parliamentary Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) has to perpetually watch over Government to restrain it from making oppressive laws.
This was a reference to Public Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes, who,
in her presentation to the National Assembly, criticised the Opposition for being absent from the Committee that reviewed the legislation at the time Government inserted the clause into the Bill.
“Minister Hughes was very clear. The PPP was not there to protect the people of Guyana. An honest question this begs is, who are we protecting the people from? We, the PPP, have to come to protect the people from the big bad Government who cannot create laws that serve the people of Guyana.
“The Government is saying that they cannot be trusted to do right as it relates to drafting laws, by themselves. They have to get monitors to tell them they are doing something wrong. What kind of government is that?”
Manickchand pointed to the amended clause nine of the Cyber Crime Bill, which states that “A person commits an offence who, through authorised or unauthorised means, obtains or accesses electronic data which (c) is stored on a computer system and is protected against unauthorised access.”
The penalty on summary conviction is a fine of $3 million and imprisonment of three years, while conviction on indictment earns the accused a fine of $8 million and five years’ imprisonment.
“This clause is completely negating the protection under the whistleblower legislation. This amendment seeks to play with words and then comes back to say any person commits an offence who, through authorised or unauthorised means, obtains or accesses electronic data stored on a computer system and is protected against unauthorised access,” the Member of Parliament (MP) declared.
“Almost all information that would come to us through whistleblower is stored on a computer system and is protected against unauthorised computer access. That’s why the person has to blow the whistle,” Manickchand stressed. “Because it’s unauthorised information … and we know what this government has done to the nurse who blew the whistle on what was happening at her hospital. What has happened to that poor nurse, your own supporter?” Manickchand asked, to which Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan replied, “she’s still a nurse” as he heckled the MP.
“Banished! Shamelessly removed from the position that she held, for doing what we say we want people to do,” Manickchand finished.
Sherlyn Marks, the nurse in question, was initially attached to a West Coast Berbice hospital. She was transferred with immediate effect during the last week in April last year after she had made complaints against a former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Councillor.
She claimed that the former Councillor had been going to the hospital for an excessive daily dose of the painkiller pethidine. The nurse had accused the regional administration of targeting her.
Nurse Marks, who said she filed complaints twice last year, claimed she refused to administer the 100-millilitre dose to the official, who would turn up daily to receive it.
She said she received a letter of transfer from the Regional Office after being scolded for going to the media with her complaints. Some two days later, the official reportedly resigned from her post and the party.
Persons and organisations, including the Transparency Institute of Guyana Incorporated (TIGI), have been critical of the incident and the potential repercussions for transparency and accountability. TIGI had referred to the case by noting that Marks was bludgeoned into oblivion or worse, “for exposing the abuse of power”.