Mon | Mar 1, 2021

Editorial | Ministers also accountable for late reports

Published:Friday | February 19, 2021 | 12:07 AM

Whatever complaints people may make against Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn, no one could credibly claim that she is not usually ready for debates, or even a bit of scrap, thereby opening her actions to public scrutiny. She tends to have full confidence in her actions.

The document tabled in Parliament, reporting on the work of Ms Llewellyn’s office, captures her personality, or, as she would probably put it, her commitment to openness, insofar as that is possible when engaged in criminal cases.

The report, it says, “provides a solid overview of the office’s commitment to its responsibility for ensuring that its constitutional mandate is fulfilled by providing the people of Jamaica with an independent, professional and effective prosecution service that operates with integrity, inspires public trust and confidence, and safeguards the administration of justice throughout the island of Jamaica”.

Adds the document: “The director of public prosecutions is committed to enhancing effective management through provision of advice on criminal matters, rulings and training and development of staff. At all times, the DPP is expected to exercise sound independent judgment and rulings in the best interest of the justice.”

It goes on to provide statistical breakdowns of cases handled by the Office of the DPP during the review period, which came to trial and how they ended in court, as well as the DPP’s work with foreign entities on extradition and mutual legal assistance requests. Jamaica’s Constitution confers great independence on the DPP. In executing her powers, she “shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority”.

The report tabled last week was the result of a compromise struck several years ago to protect the constitutional independence of the DPP, while allowing for greater transparency in the face of a clamour from some quarters for increased oversight of the office. Indeed, the data in the report, though without explanations of judicial outcomes and reasons for actions taken, provide the basis for serious discussions about the efficiency and/or effectiveness of Ms Llewellyn’s tenure.

But there is a rub. The information made available is almost meaningless. It covers the 2015-2016 fiscal year. That is, they are now almost four years old.

That, on the face of it, is not far out of character for public bodies and government agencies. Anyone willing to endure the frustration of searching the website of the Cabinet Office, and is lucky enough to unearth the data, would discover that of 164 entities listed, exactly half of them, including the DPP, were, at September 2018, three or more years behind in having reports tabled in Parliament. Thirty-four per cent were four or more years late, and 23 per cent lagged by five or more years, or had no record of reports ever being tabled.

A Decade Late

Additionally, seven, or 4.2 per cent of the entities, were at least a decade late, including the National Commission on Science and Technology (NCST), for which no annual report was tabled in Parliament for 20 years. Tellingly, only a single institution, the Bank of Jamaica, was up to date with its report, although several others were a year or two behind.

We have, in the past, highlighted this matter, pointing to the dangers posed to good governance is an absence of transparency. It creates the environment in which corruption breeds. We called previously for the attorney general to throw the book at the boards and managers of government bodies who failed to meet their obligations under the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act to submit annual reports to their ministers in a timely manner.

But Ms Llewellyn would probably explain that lengthy delays in tabling reports in Parliament is often not the fault of the agencies, but the tardiness of ministries, where annual reports languish before their crawl to Parliament. In the circumstances, she is likely to direct questions about her own reports to Delroy Chuck, the justice minister, in whose name last week’s report was tabled.

This, though, could hardly be the explanation for the NCST and other laggards, such as Jamaica Heritage Trust (15 years), the Institute of Jamaica (12 years), the National Land Agency (10 years), and the Institute of Sports (no record of reports). While the boards and managers of these agencies, and others, must be held to account, so, too, must the ministers who allow them to get away with egregious breaches of the law, or who themselves fail in their obligation of having the reports tabled in Parliament. The prime minister, also, cannot escape accountability, if he is indeed serious about improving governance and fighting corruption.