Wed | Oct 28, 2020

Peter Phillips’ US assets plunge - Outgoing opposition leader files statutory declaration; justice minister wants changes to ineffective process

Published:Sunday | October 18, 2020 | 12:18 AMRomario Scott - Sunday Gleaner Writer
Dr Peter Phillips
Dr Peter Phillips

Following the controversy that erupted last year over the publication of the financial affairs of Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips and his family, his statutory declarations are now in for 2019, showing total asset holdings of roughly $140 million.

That is separate from the over $38 million the family raked in as income between January 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019, according to the Integrity Commission report.

Phillips is married to Sandra Minott-Phillips of the law firm Myers, Fletcher & Gordon and has four sons – Mikael, who is a Member of Parliament, along with David, Luke and Jacob, whose professions could not be ascertained by The Sunday Gleaner. He also has two daughters, Tsahai and Ruth, whose professions also could not be determined.

The last time the Integrity Commission published Phillips’ declarations, it created some debate over the declared assets.

This time, the current value of the total real estate assets was stated to be $60 million.

It was revealed last year that the current value of the property owned jointly by Phillips and his wife was $48 million and a separate property owned by his wife had a current value of $10 million.

There was also accumulated $84.8 million in securities. Securities are financial instruments such as stocks and bonds. Phillips reported to the Integrity Commission that there was $972,617.04 in saving accounts, while there was another $591,784.69 in current accounts.

There was declaration of just under $170,000 in the subheading of ‘other property’. The family’s motor vehicle assets were declared at $28.7 million for a total Jamaican asset value of $118.9 million.

Phillips’ United States dollar denominated assets have been reduced in comparison to his last declaration. In the latest statement, Phillips reported that US$22,816.21 was in savings accounts in comparison to the US$39,954.72 reported previously.

But the biggest drop was the value in US dollar securities now standing at US$95,359.31. It is US$406,542.18 less than the value which was reported for the period ending December 2018.

The 70-year-old opposition leader reported that his US dollar life insurance was valued at $21,275.87, up from US$19,683.09 at the end of December 2018, making the total US dollar asset value coming out at US$139,451.69.

Phillips reported that his family held liabilities in neither Jamaican nor US-denominated currency.

FILINGS DON’T ACCOMPLISH MUCH

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has suggested that the process of filing statutory declarations could be much easier if there was an electronic platform for those required by law to do so.

“The process could be much easier if you file digitally. One of my major concerns about filing by public servants is that each year you may get 40, 50 thousand documents being filed,” Chuck told The Sunday Gleaner, as he pointed out that paper-based filling also posed fire hazards in buildings that housed them.

The justice minister said “in the beginning” he found filing to the corruption watchdog burdensome, but now he has no problems with it.

He also shared that the Integrity Commission Act will shortly go under review at which time several changes could be made, one of which is to mandate that all politicians make a declaration.

“I don’t have a problem that everybody should file,” he stated, mentioning that it would be just another set of public officials being added to the list.

But he questioned the efficacy of decades of filling by public officials.

“To the best of my knowledge, apart from imposing fines when people don’t actually file their returns on time, what has been the outcome of all these millions of files that have been done over the last 20 or 30 years? I’m not too sure they have amounted to much,” the justice minister stated.

“I think the filing of the annual [declarations] is more a burden and I don’t think they accomplish much.”

He suggested a better approach would be to do “sting operations” to catch wrongdoers. He also suggested lengthening the period of filing to every three or five years.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com