Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Editorial | Simpson Miller expands the field

Published:Wednesday | July 27, 2016 | 7:00 AM

Portia Simpson Miller, the opposition leader, this week substantially expanded transparency in public life with the most comprehensive release to date by a politician of his or her assets and liabilities. She gave media organisations copies of the declarations she actually filed with the Parliamentary Integrity Commission in the decade she has been president of the People's National Party (PNP).

Last month, Prime Minister Andrew Holness opened a window on his integrity filings since he first became a minister in 2007. But while a group of journalists were able to peruse the declarations during an interview with the prime minister, they were not allowed to leave with copies of the documents, to be reviewed at greater leisure and perhaps with expert assistance. It is not too late to remedy this shortcoming.

The concerns notwithstanding, this public airing by the country's top leaders highlights a significant development and reveals one important fact. One is that Jamaicans can be reasonably assured that , based on the numbers and assuming that the Integrity Commission has been doing its work, Mrs Simpson Miller, during her 40 years of public life, including five as PM, has not become rich out of avocation. No one could accuse her of stealing the treasury blind.

Her husband, Errald Miller, a retired corporate CEO, apparently makes separate filings to the Integrity Commission, so his worth - which has not been revealed - is not reflected in Mrs Simpson Miller's declarations. The couple, however, married deep into Mrs Simpson Miller's career. It ought to be easy for the trace of any connected financial dealings and to observe entanglements.

In the event, Mrs Simpson Miller reports no liabilities, but has savings and investments worth J$15 million, plus a house that was bought for J$58,000. Given its location and apparent state of (dis)repair, that house, we estimate, would value upwards of J$30 million. Put another away, our estimate is that Mrs Simpson Miller is worth maybe J$45 million.

This is significant in Jamaica's low-trust society where the global phenomenon of diminished confidence in the political elite is often magnified. Indeed, Julian Robinson, a parliamentarian of Mrs Simpson Miller's party and a junior minister in her last administration, recently felt compelled to reveal his latest integrity filings to disclose investments with his international jurist father and other family members and prove that he could afford an expensive home, even without the support of his investment banker wife. Of course, scepticism of the kind that Mr Robinson sought to confront is exacerbated by the too many in the political system who are, in fact, corrupt.

The larger point is that there is much work for political leaders to do if they are to rebuild trust, the most important element of which is a genuine abhorrence of corruption and the underpinnings thereof. Transparency of the kind started by Mr Holness and expanded by Mrs Simpson Miller is perhaps the most important weapon in this fight.

But it can't be left to the integrity and morality of individuals. It must carry the force of law. Which is why we support all filings by MPs or at least some critical members of the Government and the Opposition, being open to public scrutiny. An upgraded, resourced and motivated anti-corruption agency, with an independent prosecutorial arm, is also necessary.