Fri | May 29, 2020

Editorial | Fix illogic in integrity law

Published:Monday | June 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM

As we expected, David Grey, the interim head of investigations at the Integrity Commission, is hunkered safely behind Section 53 (3) of the law, which he trotted out last week, no doubt to the pleasures of the politicians who fashioned the article.

He couldn't legally disclose, Mr Grey reminded, whether he has initiated a probe into the operations of Petrojam, the oil refinery that is majority-owned by the Jamaican Government and has been under scrutiny recently over alleged nepotism, wasteful spending and poor governance, if not outright corruption.

The Integrity Commission, it is recalled, is the new agency into which three former anti-corruption outfits were collapsed:

The contractor general, which policed the award and implementation of government contracts;

The commission to which parliamentarians were supposed to file annual assets in an effort to keep them honest; and

A commission for public servants, with functions similar to the one for legislators.

None of these worked particularly well, except, in part, for the contractor general, who undertook investigations, issued voluminous reports, but often complained that identified breaches of the code, or presumed acts of corruption , were insufficiently prosecuted. However, while parliamentarians and public servants failed to meet reporting deadlines, by the second half of the 2000s, the contractor general was achieving a high level of compliance on statutory reporting requirements from ministries and agencies.

 

Procurement Declarations

 

That was largely because that office, under Greg Christie, aggressively pursued those which didn't file their procurement declarations and talked loudly about it, as Mr Christie also did with regard to investigations he initiated. His successor, Dirk Harrison, broadly, followed suit.

The subjects of these investigations, including public officials, found the public declarations of being under investigation deeply unsettling. It is hardly surprising that muzzling pronouncements of who or what was being investigated became a central element in the new integrity law, which, with its independent prosecutor, and ostensibly enhanced oversight, is to fix the problems of the old institutions and increase public confidence that corruption is being tackled.

The law mandates that any matter being investigated by Mr Grey's department or any other person in the agency "shall be kept confidential and no report of public statement shall be made by the commission or any other person in relation to the initiation or conduct of an investigation under this act".

 

Building Public Trust

 

This newspaper did not support that clause when it was being crafted in 2015. Nor does it support it now. We do not expect a public parading of every aspect of an investigation, but an initial announcement of the launch of a probe might, as Mr Christie suggests, entice people with information to share it with the anti-corruption agency. It also helps to build public trust and accountability.

With regard to the current case, for instance, Mr Grey and the commissioners, if they are so inclined, could very well decide against an investigation, and, not having to explain the whys or wherefores of anything, await public outrage to subside.

The logic of depriving the Integrity Commission of the tactical discretion of whether to make an announcement of a probe is beyond this newspaper, especially given that the agency is required to make a public declaration of vindication of anyone who is cleared. The Auditor General's Department, which has begun a problem of Petrojam, is under no such constraint. Nor are the police agencies.

We suggest that Prime Minister Andrew Holness go to Parliament with an amendment to cure this piece of illogic.