Chuck wants staggered filing of statutory declarations

JUSTICE Minister Delroy Chuck is proposing that the Integrity Commission (IC) allows for the filing of statutory declarations, for specific categories of parliamentarians and public officials, to be staggered over several years.

He suggested that instead of filing every year, the declarations could be filed every two to three years.

Making the recommendation at last Thursday’s meeting of the Integrity Commission Parliament Oversight Committee IC Oversight Committee, which he chairs, Chuck argued that the arrangement would provide some reprieve for the commission which is overwhelmed with thousands of statutory declarations, many of which it has been unable to review.

“First of all, I think these annual declarations are not only burdensome but have turned out to be nugatory — they don’t really help. So…you have over 200,000 declarations just taking up space. Wouldn’t it be a good idea if, in certain categories, you’ll follow some of the other jurisdictions and say, maybe police officers file every two years? Or you stagger it — some file every year or every two or three years? And I would say the same with other areas so at least you have a reasonable number that you can examine.

“Parliamentarians, politicians, because of the image they file every year, and it’s not a lot. But I would say there’s certain public sector workers, the police, I imagine doctors and nurses, why would you want them to file every year? I would go so far to say you could stagger it in such a way that you’ll get a better opportunity to examine them, rather than just filing every year and you will never examine,” he said.

According to the Government’s information brochure on statutory declaration, public officials and parliamentarians are required to annually submit to the IC, through the director of information and complaints, a declaration of their assets, liabilities and income for the calendar year just ended (or other period where appropriate).

Currently, all parliamentarians and public officials in receipt of total annual gross emoluments of $3.5 million or more, as well as public officials who are so advised by notice published in the Jamaica Gazette, are required to file. IC commissioners are now proposing that this threshold be moved to $12 million or more.

Further, any other public official who, or category of public official which the commission requests in writing to do so, is also required to file statutory declarations.

In response to Chuck’s suggestion, director of information and complaints at the IC Craig Beresford said the issue of the staggering of filing is a conversation that started almost three years ago at the commission level.

“It has evolved to the extent that we made this proposal now [to increase the annual emolument threshold for statutory declarations]. And that is why we said in the first instance, ‘Let’s go with $12 million,’ which would take us down to…almost 18,000 public officials [not being] required [to file] now but we would still not necessarily compromise the process because we have captured all the risky positions. And with the gazette…we can do [as is being proposed] because we can place a group on the gazette this year and then we don’t do it back until next two years. So, we are in full control but we have to be informed on the data that we have before us to understand the groups that can enjoy that,” he said.

He said the IC’s proposal is that after increasing the annual emolument threshold, a position or function-based system for the filing of declarations can be adopted, which he said should take about three years.