Editorial | Rebuilding trust in politicians
Among the noteworthy aspects of Julian Robinson's disclosure to The Gleaner of his income and asset filings with Parliament's Integrity Commission is the speed with which it was done. Within hours of media stories about his planned purchase of an expensive home, the parliamentarian and former junior minister made available to a reporter copies of the documents he lodged with the commission over the past four years.
It is an example that we commend to Prime Minister Andrew Holness as he addresses the matter of integrity in public life and the low levels of trust Jamaicans have for public officials and national institutions. He might even wish to make himself the standard-bearer on this matter.
In the lead-up to last February's general election and in the face of public scrutiny of his under-construction mansion in Beverly Hills, Mr Holness, then the opposition leader, promised to make public his own integrity filings by the end of March.
It didn't happen, and as many people would argue, he waffled on the failure to keep the deadline, offering explanations such as being distracted by the new administration's preparation of the 2016-17 Budget and the need to consult with his party colleagues, given the potentially precedent-setting force of his action.
These are, to say the least, hardly sustainable arguments. In the first place, there would be nothing precedent-setting about Mr Holness, as prime minister, disclosing his assets and liabilities, or summaries thereof. P.J. Patterson, as prime minister, did it twice, the first time nearly two decades ago. Unfortunately, Mr Patterson, who served as prime minister for 11 years, didn't make these disclosures a permanent feature of his premiership. And until Mr Robinson last weekend, no other legislator felt compelled to follow Mr Patterson's example. Happily, however, Mr Holness recently said he would act within weeks.
What is surprising about all this is that Jamaica's political elite knows full well that there is little respect for the institution to whose foundation they are critical: nearly eight of 10 Jamaicans perceive the island's political parties to be corrupt, and a similar proportion is contemptuous of the Parliament. There is a presumption that a substantial portion, if not the majority, of the people who seek public office do so to get to steal public resources and to leverage their public positions for private gain.
Rebuilding public trust in government and governance has to be cast on a foundation of transparency. People in public office are expected to not only do good things in the interest of the country, but be seen to be honest about it.
It is in context that our own position is coincidental with of National Integrity Action (NIA) that "special measures are required to begin to restore trust". And like the NIA, we believe that that in the short run, MPs should voluntarily disclose their integrity filings until legislation is in place to make public access to them obligatory. In this regard, we look forward to Mr Holness' early and urgent follow-through on the law, for this applies to the prime minister, the finance minister; and the leader of the Opposition, as is being contemplated in the UK; but feel that such a rule should apply to all legislators. The PM should also move quickly to revive legislative work for the creation of a single integrity watchdog for public officials, with an independent prosecutor.