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EDITORIAL - Let's debate Greg Christie's suggestions

Published:Wednesday | March 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Contractor General Greg Christie's suggestion for tackling public corruption in Jamaica is, in some respects, novel and provocative.

But the outline he presented this week to the country's political and parliamentary leaders is not far removed from most of what the Government has placed on the table, which are being deliberated on by the legislature.

In that regard, this newspaper believes that Mr Christie's ideas are worthy of serious discussion and debate. We therefore welcome the declaration of the Opposition spokesman on justice, Mr A J Nicholson, of his party's willingness to engage fully on the issue.

In the five years that he has held the the job, Mr Christie has won the respect of Jamaicans for the fearlessness with which he has pursued errant public officials for their failure to adhere to government's procurement rules and for his hounding of those perceived to be corrupt.

But he is frustrated at his inability to reverse Jamaica's culture of corruption. Mr Christie doesn't quite put it this way, but he feels that he is battling an inert prosecutorial system, represented by what he perceives as a somnolent Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and an overburdened judicial system. He believes, also, that agencies tackling official corruption are too disparate, thus expending their resources inefficiently.

Golding administration agrees

The Golding administration largely agrees with Christie.

The anti-corruption legislation which is before Parliament would, among other things, create a special prosecutor to tackle corruption. And in line with Mr Christie's idea, that bill would collapse into a single entity the separate commissions that now police the integrity of legislators and other public servants. Mr Christie, however, would like his office to be part of that mix.

Where Mr Christie's idea is particularly interesting, if not provocative, is in its proposal for this new office to be entrenched in the Constitution and vested with "the exclusive and independent criminal jurisdiction to prosecute all corruption offences and any criminal offence which arises from a breach of the applicable laws or regulations which are associated with (a) the award, implementation and termination of government contracts, (b) the issue and termination of any government licence or permit and (c) the filing of statutory declarations of income, assets and liabilities by parliamentarians and other public officials".

Free of the strictures of the DPP

In other words, this new office would, within the space carved out for it, be free of the strictures of, and constitutionally equal to, the DPP, whose office is entrenched under Section 94 of the Constitution, with the power not only to institute but "to take over and continue any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted by any other person or authority".

On the face of it, Mr Christie's idea for a powerful anti-corruption czar appears radical. However, a strong, largely independent office is contemplated by Mr Golding's special prosecutor, who would "not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority".

The exception here is that the special prosecutor's powers to "institute and undertake criminal proceedings for corrupt conduct" would be subject to the constitutionally embedded authority of the DPP.

Mr Christie has proposed deep and fundamental adjustments to elements of the criminal justice system. Jamaica has to decide, after measured and mature discourse, whether its crisis of corruption demands this level of overhaul.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.