Integrity Commission wants more investigative powers

THE Integrity Commission is urging Parliament to reintroduce a provision, from the now-repealed Contractor General Act, into the Integrity Commission Act which will allow more flexibility in the formalities governing investigations.

Executive director of the commission, Gregg Christie says giving the commission more room within the ambit of the law to investigate would bring more order and compliance to the investigative process, as was the case when the Office of the Contractor General operated as a singular entity.

Poring over a list of proposed changes to the Integrity Commission Act on Tuesday, during deliberations at the joint select committee (JSC) which is reviewing the legislation, Christie noted that no equal provision has been made in the Bill to replace the repealed Section 22 (1) of the Contractor General Act.

The commission was established in February 2018, subsuming the powers of the Office of the Contractor General, the Corruption Prevention Commission, and the Parliamentary Integrity Commission.

Christie said given the complexity and variety of matters which the commission deals with, the legislation should be amended to include that the proceedings of the commission or the director (of investigations) shall not be “rendered void for want of form”.

He explained that this would mean the director of investigations would not be constricted in his work to a particular formula of proceedings, but at the same time remaining within the margins of the law and natural justice in his investigations.

The former contractor general argued that the lack of this structure is what had helped his office, during his tenure, to substantially improve compliance rates by public sector entities to provide quarterly reports on contracts.

“Basically the contractor general was given the authority to summon witnesses, and swear them under oath, except that you didn’t have to go through the structures that you typically have in a court of law. I, for example, would issue requisitions to persons who I would want statements from, backed up by Section 29 of the Act. We decided how we would do our investigations, how we got information within the law — but you were not bound by the structures of form,” he outlined.

Christie said under the now-repealed provision, no challenge could have been mounted against the State on the basis of form (procedure). “You have to comply with the rules of natural justice…I have had several situations as contractor general where persons refuse to comply with a request but it [the request] was backed up by a provision which says, ‘This is a lawful request,’ and that’s how you brought order and compliance to the public sector,” he stated.

Explaining how the reinstatement of the provision would benefit his work, the commission’s director of investigations, Kevon Stephenson, said: “Insofar as not making an inquiry void for want of form when regulations are drafted, let us say there is a procedure that says A should be done, followed by B. Let us say B is done first and it doesn’t prejudice the complainant or the accused; as long as the process can be seen as a good process, done in good faith, then there should be no reason at all to say that the proceedings are void for want of form simply because A was not done before B.” He pointed out that the issue of of formalities also affects other divisions of the commission, such as the information and complaints.

Chairman of the JSC, Edmund Bartlett said the committee would take the recommendation into consideration but cautioned that the intent must be made clear in order to avoid confusion. In the fight against corruption in the public sector the commission is allowed to monitor current legislative and administrative practices.

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