Sun | Mar 29, 2020

Editorial | Integrity Commission must send reports to Parliament

Published:Wednesday | February 26, 2020 | 12:17 AM

If we understand Seymour Panton correctly, he confirmed that, somewhere in the Integrity Commission, there is a report in which the agency’s director of investigations, David Grey, has recommended that at least six parliamentarians be prosecuted for breaching the law that requires legislators to file annual assets and liabilities statements.

Further, in its report for 2018, released last June, the commission disclosed that Mr Grey’s division had completed an investigation into allegations of corruption, nepotism and cronyism at the state-owned oil refinery, Petrojam, which was “being forwarded to the director of corruption prosecution (DCP)”. Unless the machinery is irredeemably stuck, that handover process should be complete and the report should, long ago, have been in the hands of Keisha Prince, the DCP, who has been on the job since December.

There is some dispute over another report by the commission’s investigators, recommending the arrest and prosecution of a senior politician for failing to adequately explain his acquisition of assets, covered in his 2017 filing. Justice Panton, the commission’s chairman, contrary to this newspaper’s sources, denies knowledge of any such recommendation and the claim that nobody wanted to touch it.

Perchance Justice Panton is right, and the latter claim is contrived, that still leaves the matter of the other two reports, raising questions of how effectively the Integrity Commission is doing its job, including fulfilling its obligations under the law. That poses additional questions about transparency, which is essential to the commission gaining the public’s trust.

This newspaper, as have the commissioners themselves, has noted weaknesses in the Integrity Commission Act, such as the notorious Section 56(3), which insists that any investigation by the commission “shall be kept confidential and no report or public statement shall be made on it” until after its completion and a report has been tabled in Parliament. That section must be amended to, at the very least, allow the commission to announce that it has opened an investigation into a matter.

At the same time, the gag imposed by Section 56(3) demands that, even as it is thorough, it must approach its investigations with urgency, and be robust in clearing the hurdles, so as to bring the public into the loop on its actions. In this regard, for its part, the commission need only do what the law requires.

For instance, Section 54(1) of the law requires that Mr Grey, or whoever is in that post, once he completes an investigation, prepare a report with his findings and recommendations, which is submitted, via the agency’s executive director, to the commissioners.

TYPE OF BREACH

Depending on the quality of breach that the director of investigations determines, he is allowed to ratchet up the recommendations for any corrective action he makes to the commissioners. However, in the case of a suspected “act of corruption or an offence under this act”, he is obligated to recommend that the report be “referred to the director of corruption prosecution, who may take such action as may be deemed appropriate”.

Moreover, once a report to the commissioners has a recommendation under Section 54(3) of the law, then the commission “shall submit to Parliament for tabling, excluding such matters as the director of corruption prosecution regards as likely to prejudice the prosecution of any proceedings in relation to matters referred to in the report”.

Issues covered in this section include matters that are to be referred to the agency’s prosecutor, or, those, in the event of a breach of a code of conduct that require the issue be sent, in the case of a legislator, to a parliamentary leader, or, for a public official, to the relevant agency “for appropriate action”.

It seems, from our vantage point, that the Petrojam report, to which the commission alluded eight months ago, as well as the recent ones on which this newspaper reported on Sunday, should have already been sent to Parliament for tabling in the House. If they aren’t there as yet, we look forward to them in short order.