EDITORIAL - The DPP and fighting corruption
Sometime soon, most likely within the next month, Mr Greg Christie, the contractor general, will, as is required by law, present to Parliament a report on the activities of his office during 2010.
That will happen against the backdrop of an ongoing debate on corruption in Jamaica, in a context where one recent survey showed that more than 80 per cent of Jamaicans perceive that public officials here are corrupt.
By then, too, the House of Representatives will have passed the special prosecutor bill, which will bring under a single umbrella anti-corruption monitoring of parliamentarians and other public servants.
Unfortunately, the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), which Mr Christie heads, will not be part of this scheme of arrangements and it is likely, given the privileges being wrung out by some legislators, that the special prosecutor bill will be shorn of many of the powers in the laws that it will subsume.
This level of cynicism by politicians, who like to declare their supposed credentials for integrity, is indeed sad. It is made worse by the fact that the power of the special prosecutor to tackle corruption will be limited.
concern for corruption
For the fact is, the powers of the special prosecutor will be subordinate to those of the director of public prosecutions (DPP) who, under the Constitution, has the authority to institute, take over or discontinue prosecutions. Moreover, those powers are invested in the DPP "to the exclusion of any other person or authority".
We raise these issues because we share the public's concern for corruption in Jamaica and whether the Office of the DPP has the capacity and resources to robustly pursue the cases brought before it - an issue that we expect will be further highlighted in Mr Christie's next report.
In 2009, the OCG, broadly, had oversight for more than 11,000 government contracts valued at over $88 billion. Mr Christie's office monitored 759 of these "on a sustained basis" and discovered that overruns on contracts reached nearly $1.4 billion, or nearly four per cent of contracts endorsed by the National Contracts Commission. Neither ourselves nor Mr Christie, we expect, believe that the OCG captured all the cases of overruns and other "leakages" of taxpayers' money.
The larger question, however, is what happens in cases where the OCG, having investigated, determines that public officials have behaved corruptly or have otherwise breached the State's procurement rules. Too little, Mr Christie has claimed - particularly under the incumbent DPP, Ms Paula Llewellyn, who assumed the job in March 2008.
In the first 22 months of Ms Llewellyn's tenure, the OCG complained, the office made more than 30 formal criminal referrals to the DPP, and none had "given rise, whether directly on indirectly, to an arrest, a criminal charge or prosecution".
We are not clear how those statistics will have changed, but we know that in the period between the 2009 report and the one to be soon tabled, the OCG completed other investigations, from which there were referrals for criminal prosecution, some of which await the DPP's ruling.
It is quite possible that the Office of the DPP is overwhelmed with the volume of work it has and is in need of additional resources, in which case it must say so.
Or, perhaps, there is need for deeper constitutional reforms to the authority for policing corruption.
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