Tue | Oct 24, 2017

Editorial | Mr Chuck’s review doesn’t go far enough

Published:Wednesday | July 26, 2017 | 12:00 AM

We, too, lamented the long gestation of the law to establish a single anti-corruption agency, with the authority not only to investigate corrupt behaviour, but to independently prosecute cases. However, the extensive attention to the proposed commission's power to prosecute - a matter of too little emphasis in the existing anti-corruption arrangements - caused insufficient focus on areas of weakness in the bill.

But this newspaper holds to its old mantra that what is worse than governments formulating bad policies is actually implementing them. That is why we insist that the Holness administration delay any implementation of the bill, while Parliament take another, cold, hard look at the legislation, informed by recent public comments on its shortcomings.

As it now stands, the legislation, if proceeded with, would cede to governments blatant authority to, if they so wished, entrench corruption. Indeed, the offending parts of Clause 52 of the bill require more than the tinkering offered by the justice minister, Delroy Chuck.

The least problematic of the bad bits has to do with contracts for goods or services for the purposes of defence and the security forces. They would be precluded from oversight by the director of investigations in the new commission, which will be an amalgam of three existing anti-corruption agencies.

 

LEGITIMATE REASONS

 

There are, of course, legitimate reasons by the State to protect some information relating to defence and internal security. But secrecy is too often taken to the point of abuse, including to the breeding of corruption.

As we have pointed out in recent days, defence and security procurement, because of the secrecy that tends to surround it, is a major and growing part of global corruption. Supplier firms often bribe politicians, bureaucrats and military/security brass to favour them with contracts. And even in the absence of kickbacks and graft, the absence of transparency and oversight encourages inefficiency and waste.

This is a matter that is gaining growing international attention. Last year, for example, Transparency International (TI) suggested to governments that in fighting this scourge, they should "review (defence/security) procurement processes and implement systems that increase transparency". We agree!

 

PROHIBITION

 

Rather than a priori prohibition of investigation of such procurements, the language of the law should require the authorities to show, either before a judge in chambers and a panel of judges sitting in camera, how such a probe would damage the country's defence, national security or diplomatic interests. If a review is allowed, limits could be set on how the investigation might proceed and what elements of the findings could be made public.

These changes would provide sufficient cover to allow for the full and complete excision of that most egregious section of the bill that permits the Cabinet to essentially place a stamp of secrecy on any contract, and place it out of bounds of the commission's investigator, unless the Cabinet agrees to unseal the contract.

There are good reasons why the Government should recant from this position, not least being the nasty business of its intervention in last November's election-eve award of bush-clearing and road-repair contracts - a depth of interference that was only realised because of an investigation by the contractor general. Even when we trust our Government, that trust is enhanced when we know that there are mechanisms by which to hold it to account.