MEMBER of Parliament for St Andrew South Eastern Julian Robinson says the Integrity Commission should go after “big criminals” to boost public confidence in its work, instead of pursuing legislative changes to allow it to announce investigations.
“I feel your interpretation of the perception of your effectiveness is flawed,” Robinson told the commission at Tuesday’s meeting of the parliamentary joint select committee which is reviewing the Integrity Commission Act.
“You believe the ability to announce the commencement of investigations would give the public confidence in the work that you do [but] I will posit that what will give the public confidence is the completion, the prosecution, and the arrest of people who are involved in big criminality and corruption — not the small fryers. I’ve seen people prosecuted over delays in filing statutory reports — hopefully, that will improve compliance — but what I would really want to see is where you go in depth, and hold people accountable. That is what will build confidence — not a flurry of announcements about commencement of investigations. That’s how people will know that the $1 billion that is being spent annually on the commission is value for money,” the MP argued, stressing that frequent reporting to Parliament is sufficient to keep the public aware of the work of the commission.
Head of the commission, Gregg Christie and his team have continued to press Parliament to remove the “gag clause” in the law which prevents the commission from speaking publicly on investigations. Christie has repeatedly stressed that what the commission wants is the ability to announce that it has launched an investigation, not to provide details to the public.
The clause came up for discussion again at the meeting, as well as Clause 56 which governs confidentiality regarding information on contracts, licences and other matters.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, meanwhile, warned that the Government could be exposed to liability if investigations are announced, then discovered to be unfounded. “If the police force or FID go and engage in arresting people or doing things that are negligent; I see so many of them come in for claims [of] malicious allegations by the police, and we have had to be paying out and the Attorney General’s Chambers have had to settle matters,” he lamented.
Christie stressed that the commission investigates allegations, it does not make them, but Chuck argued that any announcement by the commission that it is investigating a matter gives credence to allegations. He said even in instances where these are later proven to be unfounded, this would not exonerate persons who were implicated. “Reputations are immediately damaged. If it is ill-founded it is impossible to redeem the damage,” he insisted.
The justice minister pointed to the work of the Auditor General’s Department (AuGD), and the procedure adopted to leave all reports and publicity to the parliamentary process. “The benefit of their [AuGD] reports exposes problems in the public sector and they are given widescale publicity once they’re tabled in Parliament. My concern is process. As a commission of Parliament, send everything through Parliament.”
Meanwhile, Christie noted that the commissioners believe that Clause 56 is too broad in the range of matters that cannot be disclosed, and denies the public access to some information that it should be privy to for transparency.
Currently, the commission can only disclose the summary of the declarations of the prime minister and and Opposition leader under the section which sets out that every person who has official duty under the legislation, or is employed or otherwise concerned with the administration of the law, has to treat confidentially all information, statutory declarations, government contracts, prescribed licences, and all other matters relating to any matter before the commission. Any breach could attract a fine of up to $1 million fine, or a maximum of one year imprisonment.
“What we are asking Parliament to do is to review the provision and to state specifically what matters are excluded from its purview. Right now a literal interpretation is that the only exception where we can speak about something is when we do a publication of the statutory declaration summaries for the prime minister and leader of the Opposition,” Christie stated.