Editorial: Mr Grant’s flaccid logic
We wish were surprised at the repudiation by the civil service union of a move by the authorities to prevent the promotion of civil servants who fail to comply with the anti-corruption law that requires them to file annual declarations of their assets and liabilities.
What surprises, though, is flaccidity of the logic with which Mr O'Neil Grant, the president of the Jamaica Civil Service Association, purports to defend the indefensible.
Under the existing regulations, public servants earning more than J$2 million annually are required to make these filings. It may be argued that this threshold, imposed nearly a decade ago, is too low. But that is the law - and one that has been flouted almost with impunity by public-sector employees since its promulgation.
Indeed, of the 36,000 government employees who should have filed declarations for the 2014-15 financial year, only half did so, according to David Grey, the executive director of the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption. This represents a slight uptick in recent years, but the problem remains grave.
Said Mr Grey: "There is still tardiness. We have a continuing high rate of delinquency, which does not augur well for the public service."
Legislation like Jamaica's Corruption Prevention Act is not unique to this country. Such laws are aimed at ensuring that public officials do not leverage their office, or taxpayers' resources, for private gain. This is important to Jamaica, where, despite its recent improvement on global corruption indices, people still perceive public officials to be highly corrupt.
In the circumstance, it is logical that the Office of the Service Commissions wants government staff to demonstrate compliance with anti-corruption regulations, ahead of new appointments or promotions. Mr Grant takes exception to this on the grounds that (1) it presupposes that the filing of an assets-and-liabilities statement is a precondition for appointment to the civil service, which it does not; and (2) in the case of promotion, that the officer is in breach of the statutory requirement.
"The law is the law," he says. "And if the law doesn't prescribe it, we have to stick to the law."
The law is indeed the law. And Section 4 (1) of the Corruption Prevention Act makes it obligatory on prescribed public-sector employees to "furnish to the commission a statutory declaration of his assets, liabilities and income" in a specified manner.
At Section 15 (2) (a), a person who doesn't file his declaration without good cause is guilty of an offence, for which, at 15 (2), he can be fined J$200,000, or face two years in prison, or both. This is a serious offence. It makes for good sense that public-sector bosses know that someone up for promotion has not been breached the law. In fact, an employee ought not to be eligible for promotion having broken the law.
Additionally, Section 4 (5A) empowers the commission "to, at any time, in writing, require a public servant to furnish a statutory declaration". So, it would not, on the face of it, be outside the law to request an assets, liabilities and income statement of someone in the public sector. It would seem to us to be the sensible thing to do.
We are, therefore, perplexed that anyone would object to the strengthening of provisions to prevent corruption and enhance the integrity of public servants. It is in their best interest.