Sat | Feb 29, 2020

Editorial | A solemn battle against corruption?

Published:Tuesday | March 13, 2018 | 12:00 AM

If the governor general who is vested with the authority to make the choices was going to be usurped of his right to declare on his selections, we would have preferred that he make the announcement at a sitting of the House, giving appointments the symbolism they deserve: something beyond narrow, populist, or partisan aggrandisement and having the authority of Parliament, to which they will be accountable.

For, corruption is, and is perceived to be, a grave problem in Jamaica. The battle against this scourge should be seen, as the PM suggests will be the case, as a solemn national mission.

As it is, Mr Holness chose to name the members of the new Integrity Commission, the omnibus anti-corruption agency, the law for which was approved by Parliament, and to which the agency is to be "responsible and accountable", via his Facebook page. It could have been worse, the PM - in Trumpian fashion might have felt that the declaration deserved to be the fitted into the 280 characters of a tweet.

Our misgivings over the communication approach notwithstanding, Mr Holness is unlikely to find too much disagreement over the five persons he named to the commission. Of the group, one, the incumbent auditor general, Pamela Monroe Ellis, is mandated by law. Two others, Karl Harrison and Seymour Panton, were Court of Appeal judges, with the latter having served as its president, while Derrick McKoy once served as the contractor general, one of the offices that will be subsumed into the new agency. The other commissioner, Eric Crawford, is a distinguished auditor who will bring to the body critical expertise.

This commission, we recall, will replace three existing bodies, two of which have not worked particularly well the Parliamentary Integrity Commission, which polices the behaviour of legislators; and the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, which oversees public officials. In the case of the latter, the majority of public servants don't file, as is required by law, their annual assets and liability statements, and when they do, as is the case with the majority of parliamentarians, they are usually late.

Few of these breaches are ever prosecuted, and in fewer have instances of actual corruption come to light, and been publicly investigated. Often, these agencies complain of deficiencies in the law or the tardiness of the State's prosecution agency. On the other hand, the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), headed for the past five years by Dirk Harrison, who oversees the award and implementation of government contracts, often issues withering critiques of perceived misconduct. But Mr Harrison, like his predecessor, Greg Christie, is often at odds with the director of public prosecutions about whether his claims rise to the level of criminal offences.

Prime Minister Holness, in his Facebook post, expects the new agency to be "a model of efficiency", working towards making "Jamaica the least corrupt place in the world". That's an aspiration that all Jamaicans more than 80 per cent of whom perceive their country to be corrupt share. But the creation of a new agency won't, of itself, change these attitudes. People will look for concrete action.


Commissioners key


In this respect, much will turn on how the five commissioners go about their jobs, including who they appoint to positions for the critical functioning of the agency. Most important is the zeal with which the director of investigations and the director of public prosecutions go about jobs.

The new law suggests that both these offices have wide scope within which to operate. Indeed, the director of corruption prosecution, except in the event of a conflict with the constitutional power of the DPP, who can intercede in any criminal matter, will not be subject to the control of any person or body with regard to his prosecutorial function. However, corruption prosecutors, for their effectiveness, will be dependent on the work of the investigators, who will be subject to the general or specific direction of the commissioners, who must show their worth.