Less stress

THE Integrity Commission (IC) Oversight Committee has accepted a recommendation to increase to $12 million, the statutory declaration threshold for public sector workers.

The recommendation, if approved by Parliament, should bring the number of public sector workers now required to file statutory declarations down to 10,000, from the current 40,000.

At present, 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 statutory declarations.

Committee members, however, believe this number could be further revised as the anti-corruption body is now having difficulty examining declarations, some of which have been outstanding since 2018.

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, Government member Delroy Chuck pointed out that since 2018, notwithstanding the tens of thousands of declarations that have been filed, it was noticeable that the commission’s Director of Information and Complaints Craig Beresford has revealed that only 1,056 declarations have actually been reviewed.

“Obviously, since then, it may have increased… So we will adopt that position to $12 million, because my understanding is that it would have brought it down to about 10,000 declarations. Ten thousand still is a lot, and I think we should still invite the IC to determine what would be a more manageable figure, because to even ask 10,000 persons in the public sector to file and they file every year and they’re not being reviewed, to my mind it’s just a waste of energy and time for these public sector workers because they go into the archives. I don’t know if it makes sense,” he said.

Opposition committee member Julian Robinson said that while he supports the move to increase the threshold, he believes the number of declarations will still be too high and recommended that the IC reviews some of the categories of public sector workers that currently have to file to determine whether they should continue to do so.

“I believe even down to 10,000 we should ask the Integrity Commission to review some of those categories and from a risk-based perspective determine whether all of the individuals who are now currently required [to file], whether they believe it should be so going forward,” Robinson said.

He suggested that two groups that should be considered among the exempt are members of the Jamaica Defence Force below the level of officer, and some doctors.

Government member Marlene Malahoo Forte also supported the move as “logical”. She suggested that Parliament needs to hear from the commission what is going to happen in terms of clearing statutory declaration backlogs.

“We need to get some more information on the approach that needs to be taken, but it would really be madness to have the same threshold with so many others coming into it. It would really be madness for them, with their inability to examine the existing quantity, and then adding more to it. But I think I’d like to have a more focused conversation with the IC about the approach to be taken, because the truth is that the revelation has left us with much to consider as legislators and policymakers. We have to be agile in ensuring that where models do not work administratively or otherwise, and cannot achieve the goal that we set, then we will have to review, and it makes no sense that some slavishly stick to it when it is not furthering the goals,” she said.

In response to this concern, Robinson reminded that Beresford had indicated the need for an amendment for the IC to accept electronic submissions to speed up the examination process and allow for greater efficiency.

Malahoo Forte pointed out, however, that an approval for a change to electronic submissions will not impact the existing paper declarations, and the massive backlog.

“So let us be clear that approving the electronic submissions will have no impact on the tens of thousands of unexamined declarations,” she said.

Government committee member Edmund Bartlett was also of the view that electronic filing would have no impact on what is to be examined, “but certainly it will have impact in terms of the future and the threshold that now obtains will limit the declarations to somewhere in the region of 10,000; and with electronic submissions, we should be able to deal with them faster.”

“I think we are in a position, by consensus, to accept the recommendation, but to indicate very strongly the need for greater rigour in a deeper dive into finding a solution which will enable them to effectively complete the examination of all declarations and to avoid the situation that now obtains where a vast majority of the declarants are literally in trepidation as to whether their declaration is seen and, more importantly, when they will be, in fact, signed off on,” he said.

Bartlett added that the acceptance of the recommendation is with the proviso that within the three-year period that the IC will need to transition, “a proper and detailed review towards risk-based solution will be engaged”.

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).

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.