Sat | Jun 6, 2020

New lease on life for Integrity Commission

Published:Friday | May 22, 2020 | 4:16 AM

WE DON’T know too much about Kevon Stephenson, except that he seems to have had the respect and support of his former boss, Terrence Williams, the commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), the agency that investigates abuses by members of the security forces. That, for now, is good enough for us.

For it is not our sense that Commissioner Williams suffered incompetents and low-energy laggards lightly. Mr Stephenson was his director of evaluation and standards. This week he joined the Integrity Commission (IC) as director of investigations.

Mr Stephenson’s joining of the IC coincided with Greg Christie taking up the job of its executive director, an appointment that was announced several months ago. Mr Christie is a known quantity from his days, up to eight years ago, as the contractor general, one of the three anti-corruption bodies which was, in 2018, collapsed into this new IC.

Hopefully, the commission is finally sorting itself out, on its way to becoming an agency that is aggressive in the fight against the crisis of corruption in Jamaica, in which citizens can repose their trust. Currently, they don’t.

Opinion surveys have repeatedly returned findings that upwards of 70 per cent of Jamaicans believe that they live in a corrupt country; a view further underpinned by the country’s consistently less-than-stellar performance on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

How the IC goes about its job will help to influence those perceptions, hopefully for the better.

However, a poll conducted earlier this year for the RJRGLEANER Communications Group found that just over a third (35 per cent) of Jamaicans had confidence in the IC. Nearly two-thirds either said they had no confidence in (37 per cent), or did not know what to make of (28 per cent), the agency.

As we said at the time, Jamaicans’ questions are neither about the personal integrity nor the intellect of the commissioners, who are all distinguished people of high achievements. Yet, regardless of people’s understanding of the teething pains of a new agency, they have a sense of an agency riven with bureaucratic inertia, inherent, almost, in the backgrounds of its key players – retired judges, accountants/auditors, ex-army officers and old-school civil servants.

Their approach constrained the probing instincts of the likes of Dirk Harrison, Mr Christie’s successor as contractor general, who became the IC’s interim director of corruption prosecutions. Mr Harrison had little to do before his uneasy relationship with the commission ended in his ‘retirement’ several months ago.

If, and how, prosecutors proceed, however, depends on the volume and quality of work of the investigators. In that respect, how busy Keisha Prince is kept will be a function of how well Mr Stephenson does his job and the tone that is set by the commissioners.

REASONABLE TEMPLATE

If we are to judge by the conviction with which INDECOM has approached the effort of tackling impunity in the constabulary over the past decade – recent legal setbacks regarding the scope of its powers notwithstanding – Mr Stephenson has a more than reasonable template to follow.

Further, we read into Mr Christie’s appointment a wish by the commission to escape itself before it becomes encrusted into unviable ways. We hope we are right.

During his seven years as contractor general, Mr Christie infuriated public officials by frequently calling out those who failed to submit, in accordance with the law, timely reports about the award of contracts, or with his loud announcement of investigations into contracts he didn’t believe were awarded in keeping with procurement rules and/or requisite transparency.

Mr Christie did not break the back of corruption in Jamaica, and neither has he always got it right. But he succeeded in making the fight against corruption a significant issue in the country.

As executive director, with oversight for day-to-day operational issues at the IC, he will not have the final say on matters. He will largely have a coordinating role between directors like Mr Stephenson and Ms Price and the commissioners. But Mr Christie won’t be without significant influence. If he still has the conviction and energy of the past, these can combine with his current responsibilities to help make the IC the agency Jamaicans want it to be.