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Editorial: Phillips, too, should accept his challenge

Published:Monday | November 30, 2015 | 11:00 AM

It would be a good idea for Andrew Holness, the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) leader, to accept Peter Phillips' challenge and authorise the publication of his assets and liabilities declarations, inclusive of his income statement.

But it shouldn't end there. Dr Phillips should personally embrace the suggestion by giving a public account of his own finances, as well as urge other senior members of the Government and the People's National Party (PNP), including Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, to do the same.

Such an act of transparency would be one small step towards the rebuilding of trust in the integrity of people who hold public office, in a society where upwards of 80 per cent of the people believe politicians and bureaucrats to be corrupt.

Further, it could be used as a platform from which to launch a broader campaign to identify public officials whose lifestyles do not match their known or obvious incomes, as well as a far more aggressive posture against the recalcitrants by the commissions charged with ensuring that politicians and bureaucrats behave in accordance with the rules.

As the data on public perception of corruption emphasise, the issue is of deep concern among Jamaicans. But it has taken a dramatic and narrowly partisan turn in recent weeks after Dr Phillips, the finance minister, in the midst of the ongoing election campaign, drew overt attention to the mansion being built by Mr Holness, in Beverly Hills, overlooking the eastern section of the Jamaican capital. Wading in with extreme hyperbole, Dr Phillips claimed that the home, with its massive perimeter walls, cost "billions and billions and billions" of dollars.

The truth, though, even before Dr Phillips openly put the home in the partisan cross hairs, it was the subject of many whispers, including, initially, by Mr Holness' opponents within his own party. The opposition leader, appreciating the implied comment on his integrity, saw it fit to suggest that much of the cost was being borne by his wife, who is in the business of real estate development. Dr Phillips wants something more concrete.

 

SPECIAL COMMISSION

 

Parliamentarians lodge their assets and liability declarations with a special commission, which keeps these filings secret, unless it detects acts of corruption and moves to have the misbehaving parliamentarians prosecuted. For more routine failings or inactions by legislators, the commission files complaints with the prime minister, leader of the Opposition, speaker of the House, and the president of the Senate, for either of them to take action, which, usually, is nothing. Indeed, so lame, inattentive and ineffectual the Parliament has been towards its own integrity that it has raised no questions about the failure of the prime minister, in the past five years, to table a report on operations from the commission, which her office is required, by law, to produce annually. Given the example of legislators, it is small wonder that only 48 per cent of the eligible public servants file their annual declarations to the commission that polices them.

Perhaps rather than reacting with hubris, Mr Holness should call Dr Phillips' bluff, if that is what it is, and assuming he has nothing to hide, by publishing his assets and liabilities and demand that his opponents do likewise. P.J. Patterson, the former prime minister and PNP leader, did it in 1992 and 2002. His successors have something to aspire to.