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EDITORIAL - We support a single anti-corruption commission

Published:Wednesday | April 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM

David Muirhead is a distinguished lawyer who has also served as Jamaica's high commissioner to the United Kingdom. Neither we, nor anyone we know, has ever questioned his integrity.

Last week, Muirhead was appointed to the chairmanship of the Integrity Commission, the body that polices the financial integrity of the country's parliamentarians. We have no doubt that Mr Muirhead will do all that is required of him, without fear or favour.

We, nonetheless, hope that this job is short-lived, at least in its current form. For, as we have said before, not only does the law covering the integrity of parliamentarians need to be overhauled, but it is urgent that Jamaica rationalises the system by which it polices the behaviour of public officials.

It makes little sense, in our view, to have one commission dealing with the integrity of parliamentarians and another for corruption among other public servants.

This seems to us an inefficient use of skills and resources in an environment where both are scarce. And on the evidence, these institutions, as currently structured and with the laws that underpin them, have produced relatively little.

Little or no consequence

Parliamentarians and other public officials consistently break the rules regarding the timely filing of assets and liability statements, and face little or no consequence for these failures. At the same time, Jamaica's reputation as a corrupt country continues to skyrocket.

It is against this backdrop that we urge the parliament, as a matter of urgency, to begin discussion and debate on the revised corruption bill that has languished in the House for nearly two years. Legislators, however, must now take into account the suggestion recently placed before the political and parliamentary leaders by Contractor General Greg Christie, and on which this newspaper commented a fortnight ago.

The administration's current proposals go part of the way towards addressing some of our concerns. It does propose a single commission on corruption for parliamentarians and other public servants, who would be subject to very much the same rules and obligations. It also calls for the establishment of an Office of Special Prosecutor, whose job would be to initiate investigations and prosecution of corruption matters.

Constitutional powers

However, given the constitutional powers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), this Special Prosecutor would, in the final analysis, be subject to the authority of the DPP, whom the constitution gives the power, at her sole discretion to initiate, intervene in, or, terminate prosecutions.

Mr Christie has other ideas. He would bundle the Office of the Contractor General into the other two commissions and constitutionally empower the Special Prosecutor with authority similar to the DPP's with regard to matters of public corruption. In other words, the Special Prosecutor, within the sphere he operates, would be co-equal to the DPP.

Mr Christie's latter suggestion would require amendments to the Constitution that could, in the current circumstances, be politically difficult and time-consuming. And amending the Constitution to prevent overlap between the two offices could be a ticklish proposition.

But the issues raised by Mr Christie are, in our view, worthy of serious consideration.

In the meantime, though, we should get the other stuff done. For it ought to be clear that the multitude of commissions makes little sense. We would opt for one that is efficient and has teeth that it is willing to use.

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.