Sat | May 25, 2019

Panton wants Integrity Commission gag lifted

Published:Tuesday | May 14, 2019 | 12:22 AMErica Virtue/Senior Gleaner Writer

Integrity Commission member, retired Justice Seymour Panton, yesterday said that while the state body appreciates the country’s need for information on cases being probed, it has to adhere to rules of non-disclosure.

Panton, a former president of the appeal court and one of five commissioners, told reporters yesterday that confidentiality clauses had effectively gagged the agency from defending itself against criticisms.

“Definitely, as far as the commission is concerned, ... we feel at the moment that we are trapped by the legislation, in that it does not allow us to say anything, and at the same time, freedom of the press is such that the media say anything and everything, including falsehoods which we cannot even try to respond to … ,” Panton said.

At the end of the press conference, Panton said there was misinformation, especially as it relates to former Contractor General Dirk Harrison, whose office was subsumed into the new Integrity Commission last year.

REVIEW LAW

He said any review of the Integrity Commission Act should consider allowing the entity to speak on matters relating to investigations.

“... That is one matter that has to be amended. We have seen where certain persons are calling for aspects of the law to be amended; they have not mentioned this aspect,” Panton said.

Commission Chairman Justice Karl Harrison, in his opening comments yesterday, also pointed to confidentiality matters and penalties under Section 36 of the act.

Both government and opposition members in the Lower and Upper House voted for the protections for themselves and other public servants, which bar the commission’s disclosure of investigations until after they are completed and tabled.

Opposition Spokesman on Finance Mark Golding, who is a former minister of justice, last week admitted in a radio interview that there were weaknesses in the legislation preventing the commission from speaking on investigations.

“But this is our first commitment, to ask that this part be amended, so that we can at least sometimes defend ourselves against persons who clearly have interest,” Panton said.

Under the former Contractor General Act, the occupier of the post was able to make disclosures about investigations that were under way or which would be undertaken. Former Contractor General Greg Christie was answerable only to Parliament, and was acerbic in his use of language in announcing findings.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com