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Editorial: Harrison's challenge of DPP a worthy move

Published:Monday | July 6, 2015 | 7:00 AM

We expect that there are some who will be uneasy with Dirk Harrison's legal challenge of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn's decision not to bring criminal charges against Shernet Haughton, former chairman of the Hanover Parish Council, in her nepotism and conflict-of-interest case. It is unseemly, the argument is likely to be, for two agents of the State to be doing battle in the courts.

The larger and more important issue, we insist, is bringing clarity to law, especially if it means closing a loophole against, and ensuring far more robust prosecution of, corruption than has hitherto been the case.

Mr Harrison is the contractor general, who previously served as one of Ms Llewellyn's deputies. Several months ago, Mr Harrison published a report of his probe into the Hanover Parish Council, in which he found that the Ms Haughton-led local government body had awarded millions of dollars in contracts to various family members and friends in breach, he believes, of the Government's procurement rules. He passed his findings on to the DPP, who is empowered to lay charges against persons who have, at least, a prima facie case to answer.

Ms Llewellyn's position was that there was none. She based her decision primarily on the fact that each contract awarded by the council was below $500,000 and, therefore, below the threshold that would trigger regulations under the Contractor General Act, requiring public officials to disclose potential conflicts of interest, including personal relationships with any bidder or supplier, for any goods or services for whose negotiations they are involved.

Mr Harrison believes that is a misinterpretation of the law. We do not know.

It is, however, a sign of a confident and, in our case, a maturing democracy, where the rule of law has primacy for such disagreements to be resolved in the courts, as well as, in this case, tested the extent of the authority of the DPP, who, under Section 94 of the Jamaica Constitution, is answerable to no other authority and has absolute power to halt any prosecution in the Jamaican courts.

Frankly, too, this newspaper does not believe that Ms Llewellyn's agency has been sufficiently robust in prosecuting cases of alleged corruption brought before it by the Office of the Contractor General, as is implied by Mr Harrison's court challenge and was the basis of many barbed quarrels between his predecessor, Greg Christie, and Ms Llewellyn.

A similar view of Jamaica, more generally, is held by the United States, as is captured in its latest global report on human rights and the rule of law.