Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Editorial | Holness’ move towards transparency

Published:Wednesday | June 22, 2016 | 6:00 AM

Prime Minister Andrew Holness deserves commendation for the significant move he has made towards transparency in his personal finances, notwithstanding the greater clarity about his assets and liabilities for Jamaicans to be fully assuaged about the integrity with which he has conducted his affairs.

That is why we, quite coincidentally with Peter Phillips, the shadow finance minister, suggest that the PM table in Parliament his filings with the Integrity Commission for the years for which he shared information, though not documents, with selected journalists.

Sensitive information, such as account numbers on bank holdings and investments, can be appropriately redacted to protect Mr Holness' privacy, where necessary.

This, however, is not an obligation that we reserve for the prime minister. It is extended, too, to Dr Phillips, who, especially during the recent election season when the cost of Mr Holness' Beverly Hills mansion assumed significant import, was at the forefront of the campaign for Mr Holness to make public his finances.

This is not an attempt at moral equivalency on our part. For it is a long-held, and often-declared, position of this newspaper that, given the perception and many would insist the act - of endemic corruption in Jamaica, those who aspire to, and attain, public office should be willing and ready to lay bare their asset and liability accounts.

Indeed, Dr Phillips has held high office in government, including, until recently, the finance minister's job and hopes to be in government again. In any event, Dr Phillips would add legitimacy to his call for transparency from Mr Holness if he is willing to do the same himself.

But this is an issue not only about Mr Holness and Dr Phillips, especially in Jamaica's low-trust society, in which people believe officials abuse public office for private gain. Just recently, Julian Robinson, who, like Dr Phillips, is a member of the People's National Party (PNP), felt compelled to publish his integrity filings, apparently because of whispers about his capacity to purchase, in the context of Jamaica, an expensive home.

 

REBUILDING CONFIDENCE

 

In the circumstance, something has to be done to rebuild confidence in the integrity of public officials.

Mr Holness has said that he will bring to Parliament legislation requiring the asset and liability statements of the prime minister, the finance minister, the leader of the Opposition, and the shadow finance minister, that are now held private by the integrity commission, become public documents. That will be a start in a situation that seems to demand more, and which is likely to spark substantial public debate and a slow trek through the legislature before becoming law.

We propose that, subject to making public the full documentation of his own filings, thereby opening them to analysis, Mr Holness insist that members of his Cabinet do likewise, perhaps for a period for at least five years, before joining the executive. Moreover, he should urge all parliamentarians to voluntarily publicise their declarations.

In the meantime, Mr Holness should push for an urgent retabling of legislation, which fell of the table with the end of the life of the previous Parliament, for the creation of a single integrity authority, with an independent prosecutor, with the aim of holding to account too many recalcitrants in public office.