Wed | Jun 26, 2019

PNP calls for urgent review of Integrity Commission Act - Opposition raises questions over body’s comments on OCG’s Rooms on the Beach report

Published:Tuesday | May 7, 2019 | 12:24 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
People’s National Party President Dr Peter Phillips (centre) addresses the media while General Secretary Julian Robinson (left) and Horace Dalley look on at a press conference at the party’s Old Hope Road headquarters in St Andrew yesterday.
People’s National Party President Dr Peter Phillips (centre) addresses the media while General Secretary Julian Robinson (left) and Horace Dalley look on at a press conference at the party’s Old Hope Road headquarters in St Andrew yesterday.

The parliamentary Opposition yesterday took veiled shots at the Integrity Commission, using words such as “odd” and “strange” to describe the corruption watchdog agency’s handling of the controversial Rooms on the Beach report.

Further, Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips has acknowledged that lawmakers, during their deliberations on the Integrity Commission Act, may not have given sufficient consideration to the make-up of the commission when they signed off on the legislation.

Phillips, seeking to underscore the difference in the way the report on the sale of the Rooms on the Beach Property in Ocho Rios, St Ann, was handled, noted that the commission had presented five other reports from the former Office of the Contractor General (OCG) without any comment.

“It is odd, in this instance, that they have chosen to insert themselves in the process,” he asserted.

He also took issue with concerns raised by the commission that the validity of “certain substantive conclusions” reached by former Contractor General Dirk Harrison were doubtful and could be “open to serious questioning if read by an objective person”.

Phillips said that the Integrity Commission needs to be more specific about the basis of their concerns and share them with the public.

“They need to tell us whether they have examined all the evidence, whether they have interviewed all the persons that were interviewed by the contractor general. I think it is very, very strange indeed and cannot be allowed to pass without more,” he insisted.

Independent bodies

He said the issue also raises concerns for the Opposition about the inclusion of independent bodies such as the Auditor General’s Department on the Integrity Commission, especially where they will have a role to play in crafting reports.

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis is one of the commissioners on the body that has taken over the functions of the OCG.

As a result, Phillips suggested that the review of the Integrity Commission Act, scheduled to take place after five years, be immediately undertaken, along with a review of the make-up of the corruption-prevention body.

Minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, Daryl Vaz, has been under fire since the commission delivered its report last week about the sale of Rooms on the Beach by the state-owned Montego Beach (1975) Limited to Puerto Caribe Properties Limited.

The sale was investigated by the OCG.

The report revealed that the property was valued by three “recognised” valuators at between US$11.8 million to US$13.5 million.

However, all the properties were sold to the operators of Moon Palace Resort, located on adjacent lands, for US$7.2 million. That is US$4.6 million below the lowest valuation and US$6.3 million below the highest valuation.

Vaz has denied any wrongdoing.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com