Politicians running scared

stridency coming from the Jamaican Parliament may have been fuelled by knowledge that the Integrity Commission is investigating several members surrounding allegations of corruption, information reaching the Jamaica Observer suggests.

In recent weeks, members of the Government side of the House of Representatives and the Senate have engaged in public criticisms of the Integrity Commission — which is a commission of Parliament governed under the Integrity Commission Act, 2007 — over its findings in certain matters.

Last week, Prime Minister Andrew Holness called for a “speedy review” of the Integrity Commission Act, which is being examined by a joint select committee of Parliament and the Parliamentary Oversight Committee. While changes are expected to be made, a timeline for that to be completed has not been suggested.

Holness, in last week’s address during a sitting of the House of Representatives also told Government legislators to end their criticisms of the commission.

His instruction followed broadsides by unorthodox Member of Parliament Clifford Everald Warmington, Robert Montague, and the more liberal Delroy Chuck, who all called for action to be taken against the commission, in terms of its functioning.

“The politicians know that investigations are being conducted which involves many of them, and so they are trying everything to muzzle the Integrity Commission,” a source close to the happenings told the Sunday Observer. “Those politicians don’t know what else to do but to criticise the honest members and functionaries of the commission so they resort to the latest approach,” the source continued.

“They cannot control the commissioners so they are trying to do everything to silence them. You may notice that they, led by Warmington, are still trying to get the Auditor General Pamela Monroe-Ellis to cease functioning as a commissioner, citing a conflict of interest by her, but what conflict is that?” the source added.

Opposition Leader Mark Golding has cautioned against attacking the Integrity Commission and urged his colleagues to support the signing of Code of Leadership Conduct set out by the commission. All members of the Opposition in the House and the Senate have since done so, the People’s National Party said in a recent statement.

Government members were yet to sign the document when the Sunday Observer last checked.

A few months ago, however, Golding had knocked the commission while defending his colleague Senator Peter Bunting who had taken issue with the commission’s 2017 report that found that he (Bunting), during his tenure as national security minister, had acted improperly in approving the award of gun licences to individuals of “questionable character”.

At the time, Golding said that the commission does not always put all the relevant facts in the report and that can cause unfairness and injustice to persons who are being reviewed.

However, the commission has since reviewed Bunting’s case and absolved him of wrongdoing.

It maintained, though, that in the case of then Cabinet Minister Montague, no adjustments would be made in respect of its previous findings.

Montague had accused the commission of bias and unfairness in respect of how it investigates matters.

It came after the commission maintained that Montague allowed people of “questionable character” to be allowed firearm licences by the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) while he served as minister of national security.

The contention then was that while Montague was minister a separate review board was established, which effectively overruled the working of the official review board in determining which applicant, previously turned down by the FLA Board and then the established review board, would be granted firearm licences.

Last Tuesday, in his address to Parliament, Holness had urged his colleagues to refrain from hitting out at the Integrity Commission.

“We should not engage in a political ‘cass cass’, because that is how it is emerging between the Parliament and a body that reports to the Parliament,” Holness said then.

“We are a country of laws, and the rule of law is supreme, and the Parliament is the instrument through which we make laws. The commissions get their power through the laws the Parliament makes. The Parliament gives an opportunity for members who are aggrieved, or members who want to make a personal statement, to express their perspectives within this House and have the protection of the Parliament in making their statements… and it has been utilised,” he added.

However, three days later, new Government Senator Abka Fitz-Henley, in his first presentation to the Upper House, took the commission to task, an approach that was criticised by a member on the opposite side.

“I was told that there are people within the commission who, the furthest extent of their training is the civil law, but they are seeking to cajole others who have extensive expertise in the criminal law to take action against senior members of this side despite no evidence suggesting any culpability,” Fitz-Henley said.

Opposition Senator Lambert Brown countered:

“What I am hearing is an aspersion on the commission, that the commission is partisan. The aspersion that the Integrity Commission is partisan is unworthy to be said in this House,” Brown said as he rose on a point of order, which was not entertained by Senate President Tom Tavares-Finson.

According to its website, the Integrity Commission’s principal objectives are:

“To further encourage and promote propriety and integrity among persons exercising public functions in Jamaica;

To promote and strengthen measures for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of acts of corruption;

To ensure that government contracts are awarded, varied, renewed, or terminated impartially, on merit and in a financially prudent manner; and

To enhance public confidence that acts of corruption and impropriety committed by persons exercising public functions will be appropriately investigated and dealt with, in a manner which achieves transparency, accountability and fairness.”

The commission is chaired by retired President of the Court of Appeal Justice Seymour Panton and includes retired Supreme Court judge Lloyd Hibbert; auditor and tax consultant Eric Crawford; business consultant and retired banker H Wayne Powell; and Monroe Ellis, who has been auditor general for the last 15 years.

The commission’s executive director is Greg Christie.