Corruption charges likely for five politicians
Criminal charges now hang over the heads of five current and former lawmakers who have been accused of flouting Jamaica’s anti-corruption law.
The Integrity Commission, Jamaica’s corruption watchdog agency, has revealed that the five – two current and three former parliamentarians – were referred to its prosecutorial arm in the last fiscal year.
Their names have not been made public and the country remains in the dark about when the cases were referred to the commission’s corruption prosecution division and whether steps have been taken to bring them before the court.
“Four of these persons were reported for non-presentation of additional information required to complete the examination of their statutory declarations and one for non-presentation of statutory declaration,” the commission disclosed in its latest annual report to Parliament.
“No prosecution or disciplinary action resulted from any investigation undertaken during the reporting year April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020,” the agency confirmed in its annual report for the period.
One of the accused lawmakers subsequently presented all the information requested, the commission noted.
Members of parliament (MPs) and senators, like other public officers, are required, under the Integrity Commission Act, to submit annual declarations of their income, assets and liabilities.
It is one of the tools used to help determine whether lawmakers are using their positions to illegally enrich themselves, stakeholder groups have asserted.
In February, The Sunday Gleaner, citing inside sources, reported that six MPs from the two main political parties were facing criminal charges for alleged breaches of corruption prevention laws.
At the time, it was reported that case files had been prepared for all six and sent to the agency’s chief prosecutor, Keisha Prince, for action.
Since 2010, according to documents reviewed by The Sunday Gleaner, at least 32 current and former parliamentarians accused of failing to file their declarations or provide supporting information have been referred for prosecution. No document was seen for 2017.
The documents indicate that 27 of those referrals were forwarded to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions between 2010 and 2016 by the Corruption Prevention Commission, the body that preceded the Integrity Commission.
Paula Llewellyn, director of public prosecutions, disclosed that over the six-year period, a number of parliamentarians, including former industry and commerce minister, Anthony Hylton, and former senator, Angela Brown Burke, have been placed before the court.
Hylton was accused in 2011 of failing to say that he was a director in a company he did not disclose in his statutory declarations. His case, which began in 2014, has stalled in the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court for years.
However, likening the failure of parliamentarians to file their declarations to an administrative breach, Llewellyn explained that in most instances, her office would exercise discretion not to pursue a prosecution because the issues were usually addressed by the delinquent legislators.
“What we do is send warning notices to them and where we find that they have addressed the issue within a reasonable time with a reasonable excuse, we decline to prosecute,” she explained.
“As a matter of practice worldwide, it is not everything you prosecute for. We are not automatons, that once something happens, bam, you press a button and you must prosecute.”
Further, the country’s top prosecutor indicated that the Integrity Commission has all the information and “are at liberty to review everything”.
Despite publication of the 2019-2020 annual report, officials at the commission have declined to comment on cases involving delinquent lawmakers, citing section 53 (3) of the Integrity Commission Act.
FRESH WAVE OF CRITICISMS
The silence by the corruption watchdog agency has triggered a fresh wave of criticisms.
It has also reignited debate among anti-corruption lobbyists about the effectiveness of the Integrity Commission Act, which was passed in 2017 with support from lawmakers on both sides of the political divide.
Under the previous legislation, Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act, annual reports crafted by the then Corruption Prevention Commission publicly identified parliamentarians who failed to make their statutory declarations or whose declarations raised red flags.
Professor Trevor Munroe, principal director of the National Integrity Action, the local affiliate of the global anti-corruption lobby Transparency International, called it a backward step for the public “to be kept in the dark regarding the names of parliamentarians now referred to the IC [Integrity Commission]”.
Noting that parliamentarians are there to serve the public interest, Anthony Clayton, Alcan Professor of Caribbean Sustainable Development at The University of the West Indies, said citizens must be able to hold them to account.
“If the delinquent parliamentarians are not named, and if there is no report of consequences and sanctions, then how can the public find out which parliamentarians have failed in their duty and may have betrayed the trust that the public has placed in them?” he questioned.
Jeanette Calder, executive director of Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP), believes the three-year anti-corruption law has been a double-edged sword. She argued that while in some ways it has strengthened the fight against corruption, it has also weakened it.
“Declaration of assets is every country’s most fundamental anti-corruption tool. Yet Jamaicans are no longer privy to knowing which parliamentarians are unable to stand up to our integrity test,” Calder told The Sunday Gleaner.
“MPs who have committed offences under the act (late submissions, refusal to submit [declarations] and refusal to provide missing documentation) or details on which MPs were reported to Parliament and Director of Corruption Prosecution are now completely hidden.”
Describing this as a retrograde step, the JAMP executive director said there is need to challenge Section 56 of the Integrity Commission Act, which deals with how confidentiality of information is handled by the watchdog body.
“This contravenes the citizens’ right to know the moral undergirding of their leaders and a right which has been ours since 1973,” said Calder.