Mysterious six

THE mystery surrounding six parliamentarians being investigated by the Integrity Commission (IC) for illicit enrichment deepened on Thursday as both sides of the political divide claimed they are unaware of any of their members being under probe.

On Wednesday People’s National Party (PNP) president, Opposition Leader Mark Golding, declared that none of the 21 parliamentarians on his side had been contacted by the IC as part of an illicit enrichment investigation.

On Thursday it was Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader, Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s turn to make a similar claim.

“I have asked as far and as wide and I have not gotten a response from everyone, but as far as I have been told, no. People have been written to, as the Integrity Commission does almost daily, but I have not heard of anyone in my political party being written to for this matter of illicit enrichment,” said Holness during a tour of Clarendon Northern.

“What has been done, with each person coming out and saying, ‘No I haven’t been written to’, who genuinely can say that they are telling the truth? I could have asked and someone could say, ‘No, I haven’t been written to,’ because they may have not gotten the letter, the letter may have been sent somewhere…In other words, this process is just political gimmickry that the Opposition is doing.

“Let’s be real, we built this process [and] they were a part of it. Let us support the process as it is and let it work. We have put several billion dollars into supporting and developing the Integrity Commission since its establishment. It is working. Everyone agrees [that] there needs to be some refinement. For those people who are lobbying to change the law, I have no challenge with that. Democratic society needs lobbyists, but let us give context to the debate,” added Holness as he defended the so-called “gag clause” which prevents the IC from naming people it is investigating until it tables a report in Parliament.

“Due process is important,” declared the prime minister.

Earlier in his presentation, Holness argued that the current Opposition was in step with the decision to include the gag clause when it was included in the legislation governing the operation of the IC years ago.

According to Holness, both sides of the political divide agreed that the IC should be so empowered that it could do its work without any form of interference, intervention, [or] misdirection, and Jamaica is now seeing this as the body is operating effectively.

He argued that the IC should now be allowed to complete its investigations and table its reports, then matters can be moved into a public court.

“Now what happens to someone who is being investigated for which the investigations turns out to be spurious, or there are no basis for that. Is there a way to repair the damage to that person? We are arguing here on the level of parliamentarians, the Integrity Commission, from my understanding, also indicated that several public officers are also being investigated.

“What I am saying is the issue has become a political weapon, a political tool, trying to score points with the public,” added Holness in a thinly veiled reference to the Opposition leader who, in a release on Thursday, chided the Administration for its decision to ban its parliamentarians from commenting on the illicit enrichment investigation.

“We take a position that the law, as it is established, puts in place a gag clause. I don’t like to use the term a ‘gag clause’ because it makes it seem like there is something suspicious or something to be hidden. But what it is, it is a protection for due process,” declared Holness.

“This business of trying to try people before an investigation is not the due process of our jurisdiction,” added the prime minister.

Earlier Thursday the Opposition leader had issued a sharp rebuke to the announcement by minister with responsibility for information Robert Morgan at a post-Cabinet media briefing on Wednesday that the prime minister has banned parliamentarians on his side from commenting on the IC’s illicit enrichment investigation.

According to Golding, the announcement from Morgan was “shocking and deeply concerning”.

“The notion of creating a so-called ‘Cabinet policy’ to shield ministers from speaking the truth and evading accountability is a glaring attempt to obstruct transparency and evade the responsibility of elected officials to the Jamaican people.

“The excuse that this policy is intended to preserve the confidentiality of Cabinet deliberations disguises its true intent. In reality, it is a political manoeuvre to shield parliamentarians from being held accountable for their actions and potential wrongdoings. This is not the kind of leadership and governance that Jamaicans deserve,” said Golding.

He argued that the very essence of democratic governance hinges on transparency, accountability, and the duty of elected officials to provide explanations to the people they serve.

He charged that the gag order issued by Holness undermines these fundamental principles and erodes the trust between the Government and the citizens.

“The PNP views this Cabinet policy as a dangerous subversion of democratic values. It is an abuse of power at the highest level, and it contradicts the ideals of open and honest governance that the Jamaican people have a right to expect from their elected representatives,” said Golding as he declared that the PNP’s approach is in stark contrast to that of the JLP.

“We have taken the responsible step of voluntarily disclosing the status of all our parliamentarians with regards to the IC’s investigations. This goes further to our unwavering commitment to transparency and accountability,” added Golding.