Wed | Jul 17, 2019

Editorial | Provide better particulars on PM’s filings

Published:Friday | May 24, 2019 | 12:27 AM

Both the Integrity Commission and Prime Minister Andrew Holness owe Jamaicans further and better particulars about the PM’s income, asset, and liability filings for 2016, lest the issue becomes mired in deeper obfuscation and doubt, further eroding people’s already low confidence in public officials and institutions of the State.

In its 2017 report, covering activities for 2016 and tabled in Parliament on April 30 of this year, the commission named Prime Minister Holness among eight current and former legislators whose declarations it had examined, “but not cleared”. That usually means that the commission has either noted gaps in the filings, or requires additional documentation to corroborate claims made in the statements.

It is noted that these statutory declarations by legislators are for calendar years, due on the 31st of December for the year they cover. However, members of parliament have a three-month window, until the end of March of the ensuing year, within which to make their declarations. So, at the time of the tabling of the Integrity Commission 2017 report last month, it would have been more than two years since the outside date for Mr Holness to complete his filings and more than ample time, we feel, within which to answer subsidiary questions from the commission.

That the Integrity Commission had failed to “clear” Mr Holness’ filing was a matter of grave concern for this newspaper, as it ought to be for all Jamaicans. For, while we are troubled that any legislator’s filing would not be qualified by the commission, our discomfort is deeper when it is the prime minister’s, who enjoys great constitutional powers and is expected to set the tone for the country. We want him, or her, in so far as possible, to be beyond reproach.

Our anxiety was, therefore, deepened when, at their May 13 press briefing, the Integrity Commission indicated that Mr Holness’ circumstance remained the same as of the date of the tabling of their report. Indeed, Commissioner Pamela Monroe Ellis did not equivocate when asked about the matter. “I can report that as of today, the status remains the same,” she said.

NEED FOR CLARITY

This newspaper has now reported sources close to Mr Holness as saying the prime minister provided the commission with “additional documents” on April 16, which would have been 10 days before the commission submitted its report to Parliament and a fortnight before its tabling in the House.

Moreover, it would have been nearly a month before the Integrity Commission’s press conference and Commissioner Monroe Ellis’ unequivocal declaration that the prime minister’s status remained the same. It is also against the backdrop of claims by the sources that days after Mr Holness sent the additional documents to the commission, their receipt was acknowledged.

We are happy if, indeed, questions about Mr Holness’ filings for 2016 are close to being resolved, but still find it disquieting that it would have taken all this time. In any event, the latest developments indicate the need for clarity, which can’t await coverage in some future report by the Integrity Commission, which no one knows when it will see daylight in Parliament.

We do not believe that this specific issue falls within the ambit of Section 53(3) of the Integrity Commission Act, which prevents public comments on matters under investigation. For, this is not a specific investigation commenced by the investigation, as anticipated by the law’s muzzle clause, which was obviously appreciated by Commissioner Monroe Ellis when she addressed the matter at the press conference.

Further, it is in Mr Holness’ interest that the issues are cleared up and any cloud over the reporting of his assets and finances removed, so as to provide him with full moral authority to speak on issues of integrity among public officials. He should, therefore, issue a full and sequential report on his filings, as well as of his interactions with the Integrity Commission, related thereto.