Fri | Dec 6, 2019

Editorial | Establish oversight committee for Integrity Commission

Published:Monday | November 11, 2019 | 12:21 AM

In case it might have slipped Prime Minister Andrew Holness, it’s been more than two years since Parliament approved the Integrity Commission Act, to which Governor General Sir Patrick Allen quickly gave his assent. Four months have passed since the commission sent its first annual report to the legislature.

Even before these, the commission had forwarded to Parliament for tabling, reports prepared by the legacy agencies whose powers it assumed.

This newspaper, of course, doesn’t need to tell Prime Minister Holness about the corrosiveness of corruption, how it erodes trust, or how deeply Jamaicans perceive their country to be corrupt. After all, more than 80 per cent of them perceive the country to be corrupt and have little faith in the institutions of the State and democracy, the public bureaucracy, the police, Parliament and the judiciary.

Neither ought the prime minister to require a spiel from us about the potential of the Integrity Commission as an effective watchdog against public corruption that can help to turn around the negative perception of Jamaica, which would not have been helped by the recent decision by the United States to rescind the travel visa of a senior member of his Cabinet, as well as those of top police officers and a ranking member of the Opposition.

Indeed, Mr Holness himself has made it clear that he understands these things and has suggested that fighting corruption is a priority of his administration.

“Corruption is being treated as a Tier 1 threat,” he said during the February 2017 parliamentary debate on the Integrity Commission law. “We are committed to stamping it out, and the new Integrity Commission is an important step in the anti-corruption initiative.”

We take Mr Holness at his word. But that is not enough. There are, for instance, other things he must do, or have done, to enhance the transparency and effectiveness of the Integrity Commission, which have lagged for more than two years.

The commission reviews the income, assets and liabilities statements of legislators and public officials; monitors the award and execution of government contracts; and investigates suspected acts, or complaints, of corruption.

Apart from those pertaining to specific investigations, the commission is required, within three months of the end of the financial year, to provide Parliament with a report on its activities for the preceding period.

In the one they filed last July, the commissioners made seven specific suggestions for amendments to the act, apart from those made by this newspaper, and others, such as the fact that the auditor general’s membership of the body raises serious potential for conflicts of interest, or the perception thereof.

COMMITTEE NEVER MET

The law presumes that reports, of all kind, represented by the commission to Parliament will be considered by a standing oversight committee of the House within 30 days of their submission. That committee would also have the job of “monitoring or reviewing the performance of the functions” of the commission and reporting its conclusions to both Houses of the legislature.

The committee, however, has never met, although the fourth schedule of the Integrity Commission Act amended the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, paving the way for its establishment.

For some reason, that has not been explained; the Government is yet to formalise the committee and name its members, which is usually done by the leader of the House.

The upshot: the members of the commission have not been required to go before Parliament to account for their operation, or to answer questions about the several controversies that have attended their still-short and emerging tenure.

The politically cynical will perhaps claim that the delay may have been to avoid, or to allow for the resolution of, potentially embarrassing questions about the interface between the commission and government officials.

We prefer to assume it is an oversight that Prime Minister Holness will have fixed in short order. That is within his gift.