Sat | Aug 24, 2019

Canute S. Thompson| The Integrity Commission Report: Evidence of Disintegration?

Published:Sunday | July 21, 2019 | 12:16 AM
Retired Justice Karl Harrison
Dirk Harrison
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Jamaica has had a long history of State corruption, aided and abetted by persons connected to the State or the party in power. To reduce the scale of corruption the PNP, while in power, drafted the Integrity Commission Bill. This Bill was passed into law by the Holness administration. Many Jamaicans were cynical about the prospects of the Integrity Commission being effective in combating corruption. I was hopeful, as I wrote in a piece entitled “Leading from the front in combating corruption”, published in the Jamaica Observer on May 27, 2018. In the first paragraph of the last section of that article I stated: “Civil society groups seem to no longer exist. But citizens can be assured that the new Integrity Commission Act provides the space for each of us to be part of the fight against corruption”.

In the same article I also cited the comments of the Prime Minister who, in announcing the names of the members of the Commission, charged them to make Jamaica “the least corrupt place on the Earth”.

But the hoped-for assault on corruption that the Integrity Commission was expected to launch in seeking to make Jamaica the least corrupt place on earth has disintegrated even before the Commission effectively began its work. Evidence of this disintegration (before proper formation) was seen on display in its first news conference on May 13, 2019 when the chair of the commission spent close to an hour discussing personnel details surrounding the employment arrangements of its acting director of prosecution, the former contractor general, Dirk Harrison. The hour-long raking of Dirk Harrison was both an amateur and shameful act of leadership, but forgivable, if subsequent actions veered from that course.

The quality of its first report, published on July 12, 2019, has not veered from the course on which the Commission started on May 13, and this fact signals the need to start looking for new members to serve on that Commission.

The first thing which struck me about this 125-page report is the fact that after over a year, an office which has benefitted from significant amount of resources has so little to show for it. Dirk Harrison called attention to the sleeping-at-the-wheels by the Commission a few weeks ago when he noted that the Commission had not undertaken a single prosecution since it came into being. This issue of the Commission’s work in failing to undertake corruption prosecutions is, in my opinion, the single clearest piece of evidence that this anti-corruption agency is not doing its job. This failure is the reason the country’s faith in the Commission is weak, despite the Commissioners being otherwise fine, hardworking, people and outstanding professionals.

Full prosecutorial powers – to whom?

The Commission has full prosecutorial powers as stated on page 6 of the report. It notes further that with these powers, “the Director of Corruption Prosecution is NOT (my emphasis) subject to the direction or control of any person or body in relation to the conduct of his prosecutorial functions … except where the DPP intervenes”. Yet, at page 46 of the report, the Commission indicates that it has established a Corruption Prosecution Committee as a standing committee of the Commission. This committee “… represents the Commission in its dealings with the Director of Corruption Prosecution”.

My question is: if the Director of Corruption Prosecution is not under the direction or control of any person or body, why should there be a committee interfacing with the Director in relation to the execution of his (or her) work? According to the report the Corruption Prosecution Committee “will:

(a) provide legal advice to the Commission on matters concerning acts of corruption and offences committed under the Integrity Commission Act;

(b) submit to the Executive Director, quarterly reports on the activities of the Division;

(c) perform such other prosecutorial functions relating to acts of corruption as may, from time to time, by assigned to him. …”

I don’t get it. I have several questions:

(i) What is the purpose of a Director of Corruption Prosecution, who is not under the control of anyone, if you are establishing a committee to advise the Commission of legal matters? Is this a device designed to in fact control the activities and prosecutorial decisions of the Director?

(ii) What is the rationale for the committee and not the Director himself or herself to prepare and submit the Division’s report to the Executive Director? Is this measure designed to ensure that only the things on which the committee reports the Commission wants reported?

(iii) What prosecutorial functions would a committee be performing, if there is an independent Director of Corruption Prosecution who is under no one’s control.

(iv) Who does the Director represent, as an employee of the Commission, given that the Commission has set up this committee to represent its interests?

(v) What interests could the Commission ever have in any prosecutorial activity such that it would need a committee to represent it?

The apparent restraint being articulated by the Integrity Commission in relation to prosecution is also seen its in actual performance over the last year. The report states, tersely, on page 43 that “…no prosecutions or criminal proceedings were initiated…” during the 2018/19 period. So, with all the corruption taking place, including the failure of some officials to file reports on time, this anti-corruption body has not undertaken a single prosecution for an entire year. This is unacceptable and does not inspire confidence.

Best practice in anti-corruption

When I examine the report of the Integrity Commission and compare its activities (or lack thereof) with global best practices in anti-corruption, I find that the Commission is either amateur in carrying out its work, or deliberately indifferent to carrying out its work in a manner that engenders public trust.

Anti-corruption bodies were first established in Eastern Asia. According to Transparency International, the first anti-corruption commission was set up in Singapore in 1952, followed by Malaysia and Hong Kong. There are over 150 such entities across the globe, many of which are in Africa. One of the features of the anti-corruption bodies in places such as Eastern Asia is their fearlessness. Each week, Greg Christie, former Contractor General, tweets news stories of anti-corruption investigations and yes, prosecutions leading to convictions of high-ranking public officials and sometimes members of the private sector of various countries.

In international best practice, the work of credible anti-corruption entities falls into five categories: prevention, education, raising public awareness, investigation, and prosecution. When one examines the report of the Integrity Commission there is no indication of a philosophy on corruption prevention, nor is there any sense of urgency to educate and raise public awareness, investigate or prosecute. The Chairman’s remarks address the composition of the Commission, the operations of the Commission, compensation of Commissions, and prosecutorial powers. But one would expect that in its first report, as should have been the case in its first press conference, the Commission would take time to articulate its vision, mission, and purpose and give the country a sense of what it intends to do to execute its mandate of preventing and prosecuting corruption.

The head of the anticorruption advocacy groups National Integrity Action, Professor Trevor Munroe, and Jeanette Calder of Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal, have both identified that the report lacks transparency and both are disappointed in several aspects of the report including the fact that the two MPs in relation to whom new investigations have been opened concerning possible statutory declaration offences have not been named, and the failure to state categorically whether the Prime Minister has been cleared in respect of his integrity declarations. One does not sense fearlessness.

In the first place the document purports to be a REPORT. As such it ought to state what was planned, what was achieved, and what explains the outcomes. What is presented are some ideas about possible future action; but no timelines or measures of success are indicated, thus one cannot describe it as an action plan.

My assessment is that except for investigations which have commenced, hardly much else has been done by the Commission for a whole year. The year 2020 will therefore be a watershed year for the Commission for if it does not report and demonstrate that in 2019 it undertook activities consistent with its mandate then the Commissioners might as well pack up and go.

- Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.