Wed | Oct 17, 2018

Editorial: Take the fight to corruption

Published:Friday | May 22, 2015 | 12:00 AM

For anyone concerned about corruption in Jamaica, Peter Bunting's complaint at an open session of a parliamentary committee was not only astounding, but underlined the need for an urgent and clear-minded overhaul of anti-corruption legislation, with creative and aggressive leadership of the institutions that enforce the law.

Action on the latter point, however, doesn't have to await Parliament's completion of work on the former, which has begun and formed the backdrop to the security minister's remarks. The people now on the job, and supporting institutions, just have to recognise the crisis of confidence that envelops Jamaica and how the perception of corruption debilitates the island's economic and social development. And if they are incapable of strong and creative effort to get the job done, they should go.

People in such commissions much appreciate, too, that they are not there as trial lawyers and judges debating arcane points of law and to overanalyse every potential contention to paralysis. They are practical overseers against corruption.

Mr Bunting, unfortunately, did not provide figures or specifics of the cases. He, nonetheless, claimed that investigations of public officials suspected of corruption - and in some instances charged with multiple offences - are often frustrated by the failure or unwillingness to share with the police information from assets and liabilities filings of these officials. But according to David Grey, the executive director of the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (CPC), the watchdog is forbidden from doing so, outside of a request under the Proceeds of Crime Act - a position, he says, that was upheld by government lawyers.

On the face of it, Mr Grey is correct. For Section 6 (1) makes annual declarations to the CPC "secret and confidential". This newspaper, however, is sympathetic to Mr Bunting's view that this is not an impregnable constraint.

Indeed, Section 12 of the act provides that, in the failure of a person to file statutory declarations, or in circumstances where the commission, having conducted an enquiry into the information, is dissatisfied with any aspect of what it finds, "shall report the matter to the appropriate service commission, board, body or other authority and the director of public prosecutions" (DPP). These commissions, boards or 'other authorities' may take appropriate disciplinary action.

In the case of the DPP, that office, having received a report, can "authorise any person having an official duty under the act, or being employed in the administration of this act, to furnish information to any officer of the court, the police or any other person specified by the director of public prosecutions".

It is in the context of the foregoing that we understand Mr Bunting's insistence that the CPC need only "open your own investigation", as a way for the police to find access to the filings with the CPC.

Of course, this approach, as Mr Grey says, would mean hearings involving the subjects of the investigations and CPC would need to have cause to be dissatisfied with what it finds. But that, in our view, would be better than doing nothing, and the process need not undermine the integrity of the CPC. In any event, the law does not demand that every investigation by the CPC begin with that agency. It can act on credible reports.

The greater danger, this newspaper believes, is for various agencies to be operating in silos, with impenetrable walls of demarcation between them. That is an environment that favours the corrupt.