Sat | May 25, 2019

Dirk’s our man - Integrity Commission backs Harrison despite public spat over Rooms on the Beach report

Published:Tuesday | May 14, 2019 | 12:24 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Staff Reporter
Dr Derrick McKoy (left), commissioner at the Integrity Commission, addresses the media during a press conference yesterday. Looking on is Justice (ret’d) Karl Harrison, chairman of the commission.
Dr Derrick McKoy (left), commissioner at the Integrity Commission, addresses the media during a press conference yesterday. Looking on is Justice (ret’d) Karl Harrison, chairman of the commission.

A member of the Integrity Commission has publicly rejected aspects of the contentious report on the sale of the Rooms on the Beach property, but insisted that its author, former Contractor General Dirk Harrison, has the full confidence of the nation’s corruption watchdog agency.

The sale of the St Ann-based property for just over US$6 million less than the US$13.5-million valuation was investigated by the then Harrison-led Office of the Contractor General (OCG). Harrison’s report, which was critical of Cabinet Minister Daryl Vaz for his alleged interference in the sale, was submitted to Parliament last month.

Dr Derrick McKoy, one of five commissioners of the Integrity Commission, made it clear yesterday that he would not accept all the findings in the report.

“I, for one, do not accept all that he (Harrison) has asserted and I think the public and the Parliament would need an explanation as to how I would have arrived at that conclusion,” McKoy, a former contractor general, said during the first press conference held by the one-year-old commission.

Speaking on behalf of the other four commissioners, the chairman, retired Justice Karl Harrison, went further, saying the findings, in some instances, were “not supported by the evidence”.

He pointed out, too, that in some cases, the language used in the initial report drafted by the former contractor general was “inflammatory”, but declined to cite examples.

The OCG was last year subsumed into the Integrity Commission and Harrison appointed acting director of corruption prosecutions.

Karl Harrison is not related to Dirk Harrison, who sent word that he was unable to attend the press conference.

Despite this, Karl Harrison said Dirk Harrison has the confidence of all the commissioners and sought to make it clear that in raising the concerns, the commission was not seeking “to bring into disrepute the credibility of the findings of the final report” tabled in Parliament.

“We had and we have no issue with him. We still recognise Mr Harrison as part of this commission. There are no problems we have with him. It’s as simple as that,” the Integrity Commission chairman insisted.

For McKoy, the public disagreement is not an indication that they are “not on the same page”.

“People will disagree. We have two judges on this commission who sat on the same Court of Appeal, and they have, in the past, disagreed publicly,” he said.

The Rooms on the Beach report revealed that the St Ann 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, the minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, has denied any wrongdoing.

The parliamentary Opposition, seeking to underscore the difference in the way the report was handled, noted that the commission presented five other reports from the former contractor general to Parliament without any comment.

“It is odd, in this instance, that they have chosen to insert themselves in the process,” Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips asserted in a press conference last week.

McKoy dismissed the criticisms, noting that “all the subjects of those investigations were exonerated”.

He reasoned: “There was no suggestion that they were misbehaving badly. There was no cause then to give anyone the chance to speak to the accusations.

“I can’t imagine why anybody, in the broadest principle of natural justice and fairness of procedure, would object to somebody being given an opportunity to comment on some of the [adverse] references … . Why wouldn’t you give them a chance to be heard?” McKoy questioned.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com