Thu | May 23, 2019

Editorial | Unshackle Integrity Commission, as IMF says

Published:Friday | April 26, 2019 | 12:35 AM

Prime Minister Andrew Holness must be adept at deciphering the short-hand of organisations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF). So, when the IMF talks about matters about public sector governance that are in need of urgent attention and frames that, in part, around the Integrity Commission, he knows they are talking about corruption that seems almost endemic in Jamaica.

The Fund doesn’t specifically say so, but the clear implication from the latest review by the executive board of Jamaica’s Stand-By Arrangement (SBA), is that public corruption is a drag on economic growth, despite the Government’s continued “strong” implementation of the fiscal adjustment programme.

Indeed, as the IMF pointed out, the island’s debt-to-GDP – 97.9 per cent – has fallen to below 100 per cent in nearly two decades, and from close to 150 per cent of GDP a mere six years ago. Inflation is in single digit, unemployment is at historic lows and business confidence is high. Economic growth, at 1.8 per cent last year, isn’t great, but slightly better than projected and is in the right direction.

But the executive directors, in their public statement on the staff’s latest half-yearly review of the SBA, said: “…Tackling governance issues swiftly and forcefully is necessary to enhance transparency and accountability, bolster trust in public institutions and protect public funds.”

In other words, the IMF believes that the opaqueness surrounding the management of some State-owned entities lends to an environment in which taxpayers’ money can be easily misappropriated, if not downright stolen. And when this is perceived to be the case, the muzzle placed on oversight bodies contributes to a belief by the public that the perpetrators are unlikely to be held to account. This can’t be the image of Jamaica a prime minister, who came to office pledging to be a warrior against corruption, would wish to endure.

In making its observations, the IMF, no doubt, had in mind the many scandals that, over the years, have ensnared Jamaican government institutions, but would have been stirred specially by the recent ones at the Petrojam oil refinery and other agencies that fell within the portfolio of former Science, Energy and Technology Minister, Andrew Wheatley. Nepotism, wasteful and unsubstantiated spending, and a general lack of accountability, appear to have been rife at these institutions.

PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Among the IMF recommendations, to immediately address these shortcomings, is “empowering the Integrity Commission”. The Fund, however, doesn’t say precisely what it has in mind for the Commission. In that regard, we repeat a number of suggestions we previously offered to the Holness Government.

Take the case of the Integrity Commission’s annual report, for 2017, of the income, assets and liabilities filings by legislators, which, we believe, was presented to the Government months ago for tabling in Parliament, but is yet to see the light of day. If we are right, the Commission, having presented the report, unless it courageously engages in a broader interpretation of the law, has no further say in what is done with it.

We would urge the commissioners to push the envelope on the matter, and if it has been delivered to the appropriate minister, cause the document to be released on its website. Further, the Integrity Commission, in its next annual report, should propose, and the Government should accede, that section 36 of the Act be amended to say that if within 90 days of the presentation of an annual or special report to the minister and it is not tabled in Parliament, then the Commission shall publish the document.

Further, section 56 of the law, which bans the Commission from announcing the commencement of an investigation of any matter or providing up-dates until a report is tabled, must be amended.

It is not beyond us to craft a formulation that enhances transparency and public confidence without an a priori presumption of guilt on the part of the individual(s) being investigated.