Get cracking! - Golding urges Gov't not to linger with new corruption body, questions hang over Cabinet's powers
The Government, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding has said, should not delay establishing the single anti-corruption agency with prosecutorial and investigative powers, following yesterday's Senate approval of the enabling legislation.
"I see no delay because the agencies that it will now incorporate are already up and running. What is going to be involved is the actual admini-strative work to sort of pull the agencies together," said Golding, who, as prime minister between 2007 and 2011, was a strong proponent of a special prosecutor and a single corruption agency.
Yesterday, government and opposition senators beat Gordon House's desks as they hailed the passage, with 103 amendments, of the Integrity Commission bill, which will establish the agency.
But the Opposition was concerned about a clause that allowed the Cabinet to shield some contracts from investigation by declaring them confidential. Permission would have to be granted for any probe.
The new body, to be known as the Integrity Commission, will represent the merger of the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), the Corruption Prevention Commission, and Parliament's Integrity Commission.
It will be answerable only to Parliament and will focus on the prevention of corruption, the awarding of government contracts, investigation of complaints, and prosecution of cases. It will also receive the statutory declarations from parliamentarians and certain public officials.
The Senate's amendments will have to go to the House of Representatives for approval, which is likely to happen next week Tuesday. After that, the legislation will be sent to the governor general for signing and then gazetted to complete the lawmaking process.
A timeline to set up the new body has not been released, but Golding said that "strong" leadership would be important.
"I'm hopeful that the person who assumes that responsibility will be the kind of person who will make someone who is inclined to engage in corrupt activities think twice and think of the likely consequences because of the diligence and the aggressiveness of the anti-corruption agency," he told The Gleaner.
The agency will be led by commissioners. They will include the auditor general and four other commissioners to be appointed by the governor general following consultation with the prime minister and the Opposition.
Initially, it was proposed that the commissioners would be appointed by Parliament, but Leader of Government Business in the Senate Kamina Johnson Smith said that the Government preferred not to saddle a new agency with an experiment.
There will also be an executive director responsible for the day-to-day management of affairs of the agency. Other key positions include the director of corruption prosecution, who will act on recommendations from a director of investigations.
Commission will not have exclusive control - Greg Christie
Lawmakers, seeking to avoid criticisms of the OCG, have also agreed that if an investigation does not end with conclusion on a wrongdoing or corrupt act, the subject of the probe must benefit from a public exoneration unless the person wishes otherwise.
The rules of the House of Representatives will also be changed to require that legislators consider reports within 30 days after submission by the commission.
Former Contractor General Greg Christie, who pushed for the entity, has argued that the bill is weak, and yesterday, he noted that the commission would not have "exclusive or independent control" over who is investigated. He said on Twitter that the agency would have to depend on other bodies, including the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Revenue Protection Division of the finance ministry.
The Senate, meanwhile, rejected a proposal from the Opposition to remove a provision from the Integrity Commission bill that would require the approval of the Cabinet secretary for the anti-corruption agency to investigate certain government contracts.
Under Clause 52, the director of investigations must get the permission to probe contracts and licences relating to equipment provision for the security forces.
But opposition members took issue with the requirement for permission to probe any government contract that Cabinet "determines" should be kept confidential.
Leader of Opposition Business Mark Golding said that it was a "very broad, undefined provision" that could "undermine" the legislation by facilitating "a Cabinet refusing to allow investigations of any type of contract that it feels it wants to maintain confidential".
Johnson Smith said that the issue had been researched and noted that the Financial Investigations Division had requested the provision, which was accepted by a parliamentary committee chaired by Golding. "I note the senator's concern in respect of the potential for abuse, and we have to trust that a Cabinet of the country, with the support of the Cabinet secretary, will manage this matter appropriately."
Golding, however, argued that things had "changed" from when he supported the provision and pointed to the questions raised recently by the contractor general about the Cabinet's award of contracts in the $606 million debushing programme.
A divide was called, and the Government outvoted the Opposition 9-3 to keep the provision. There were seven absentees.