Home News Witness protection, whistleblower legislation without context – GHRA
…focuses on prosecution instead of prevention strategies
The GHRA has since observed, “The context for these Bills is the Government’s anti-corruption stance which has not been presented to the country in a coherent or integrated manner.”
According to the human rights body, “Without an adequate appreciation of the political context or framework in which a draft bill is being brought forward, the value of any commentary on the bill is severely curtailed.”
It was observed that the current witness protection bill – officially the Protected Disclosures Bill – is the fourth in a series over the past year in which the GHRA has found itself reviewing a mechanism without a context.
It was observed that part of the cost of this piecemeal approach is that the focus of all the Bills is prosecution of offenders, thereby marginalising the importance of prevention strategies to foster greater integrity in public life. It is in this context that the human rights watchdog body has since called on the coalition A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government to adopt a stance akin to earlier parliamentary practice by which new legislation was introduced involving a sequence of consultation, policy then legislation.
Government in this case has drafted its proposed legislation, which it has presented for consultation as against, for example, the Sexual Offences Act which had its draft come out of countrywide consultations.
Given its take on the proposed witness protection and whistleblower legislation, the GHRA was adamant that the existing political context in which the new Guyanese legislation is intended to function – having been shaped by an ‘illegal’ Constitution, an electoral system devoid of accountability and a widespread culture of public conformity and private dissent – is not conducive to principled civic action.
“Moreover, corrupt exploitation of this ramshackle political system has seen illicit accumulation of public assets on an unimaginable scale… Rehabilitating these features of personal and public life is the essence of the problem the Disclosures Bill is intended to address.” With regard to the implementation and enforcement of the legislation, the GHRA was adamant that there needed to be vigorous public vigilance rather than another commission with draconian powers. According to the GHRA, “Those inclined to misconduct rely on others not calling them to account for fear of the possibility that the improper conduct they observe may be endorsed by some higher authority.”
It has since been suggested that rather than vesting total confidence in individuals divulging information to a single Commission to address improper conduct, society needs a generalised rehabilitation of the culture of expressing opinions freely, demanding the provision of truthful information and holding people to account. “Rather than disclosure of misconduct, therefore, the first step should be to identify a range of deterrents to misconduct in the form of vigilance mechanisms, made available at all levels of the public service and where appropriate, extended to Private Sector institutions,” the GHRA recommended. On the matter of the enforcement of the various pieces of legislation, the GHRA suggested that rather than routinely creating a new Commission to implement each new piece of legislation, more imaginative approaches needed to be considered.
The GHRA has since posited an urgent need to amalgamate Commissions thematically. “The Rights Commissions should be brought under one Human Rights and Equalities Commission with thematic sub-Commissions – children, women, indigenous, etcetera. Another approach could be to create an Ombudsperson Commission with four or five Commissioners, each charged with a specific area of Public Service complaints – employment, justice, Police complaints, etcetera.”
The GHRA added that a new anti-corruption commission could address State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU) concerns, as well as witness protection and whistleblower issues.