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Swamp of corruption: Public-sector workers face court as hundreds of cases linger

Published:Thursday | November 28, 2013 | 12:00 AM
DPP Paula Llewellyn

Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer

Two senior public servants are to be hauled before the court today to respond to corruption charges, a drop in the bucket as the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption struggles to investigate 322 others who are suspected of being in breach of the law.

The two public servants have not been identified, but government sources say one of them, who is employed to the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, is facing a charge of illicit enrichment, while the other, said to be a senior customs officer, is charged with making a false declaration.

The charges stem from separate rulings by the director of public prosecutions (DPP) nearly a month ago, and according to one source, the two were served with summonses two weeks ago requiring them to appear in the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate's Court today, where prosecutors will outline the cases against them.

Under the Corruption (Prevention) Act 2000, more than 25,000 public-sector employees and officials are required to make annual declarations of their assets and business interests.

Those who fail to provide a satisfactory explanation where their declared assets are not supported by their income and/or knowingly make a false statement on their declaration can be prosecuted for illicit enrichment.

In its latest report to Parliament, the commission, which is mandated to stamp out corruption in the public sector, painted a picture of an office swamped with cases, but a less-than-adequate number of investigators to carry out these probes.

The report showed that up to March last year, the commission was probing the 322 cases, 65 of which were "closed and no further action taken" because there were no investigators to whom they could be assigned. Twelve cases were sent to the DPP's office for rulings, while the others remain active investigations.

"By close, it is meant that those cases are put aside because there are not enough investigators, so they end up having to prioritise," one source explained.

According to the report, the Jamaica Constabulary and the Island Special Constabulary forces, 67; the Jamaica Customs Department, 68; the Financial Investigations Division, 40; the National Works Agency, 25; and the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency, 20, account for a total of 220 of the cases before the commission. There are three from the Bank of Jamaica.

The commission noted that in most of the cases, the issues centred around the acquisition of assets without evidence of how they were financed, the non-declaration of assets such as properties and motor vehicles, and the non-declaration of business interest/income.

Over the last two years, the commission has successfully prosecuted four public officers. Among them was a former customs officer who had an annual salary of just under $1 million but filed declarations between 2003 to 2007 "showing growth in assets in excess of $12 million".

"This included investments of more than $7 million in unregulated investment schemes," the commission said, noting that the officer was unable to explain the increase in wealth.

He subsequently pleaded guilty and was fined $700,000 for one count of illicit enrichment, and $100,000 each for three counts of making a false statement on a declaration.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com