Sat | Dec 3, 2016

EDITORIAL - A better logic against corruption

Published:Thursday | December 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Based on Lambert Brown's logic, Jamaica is a crime-free country, or nearly so. For the police solve only a small portion of crimes and only a handful ever reaches the courts. Fewer, still, end in convictions.

But the government senator, on reflection, will appreciate that, if his was not a failed attempt at irony, he was plainly ridiculous in attempting to equate that the failure of the Integrity Commission, in its 41 years of existence, to convict a member of parliament (MP) for corruption means that the problem doesn't exist among Jamaican legislators.

"I believe that politicians are bearing an unfair label of being corrupt, without the evidence to support that," said Mr Brown. "I don't buy the view that perception is sufficient for me to walk around with that label."

Perhaps!

But Mr Brown is invoking the wisdom of the Jamaican people and their folkways. He is likely to be acquainted with the saying about smoke and fire. Moreover, he would have heard, and hopefully digested, the testimony of Justice Paul Harrison, the Integrity Commission's chairman, before the joint parliamentary committee on the proposed super anti-corruption agency.

The retired judge complained of the lack of forensic investigators to deeply probe the assets and liability statements filed annually by parliamentarians. We would point, also, to gaps in the law, to provide reporting loopholes to parliamentarians, as well as the absence, until recent stirrings, of state prosecutorial powers to go after legislators who fail to meet the law's minimalist requirements.

We note, too, Justice Harrison's revelation that his commission had investigated an MP, who he did not name or say when it happened, who had reported a J$500,000 gift. The gift was eventually verified by an affidavit by the purported donor, although Justice Harrison indicated that that affidavit "may well have been received with some degree of scepticism".

The way to solve the potential mischief is not only, as Justice Harrison suggests, to bring parliamentarians under the realm of public officials, who, by civil Staff Orders, are prohibited from soliciting or accepting gifts and gratuities "for the performance or neglect" of their official duties.

CODE OF CONDUCT NEEDED

While this should be reflected in the new law, we believe that Parliament should separately establish a code of conduct for parliamentarians, inclusive of a publicly available register of financial interests, similar to what exists in Britain and to which many Westminster-style parliaments are moving.

At Westminster, for instance, MPs have an obligation to notify of "changes in their registrable interests within four weeks of each change occurring". The registry is printed periodically, but is available on Parliament's website, allowing it to meet its obligation of giving "public notification on a continuous basis [of] those financial interests held by members which might be thought to influence their parliamentary conduct or actions".

So, a United Kingdom MP would have to register, and name the donor, benefits amounting to £1,500 in a calendar year in increments of more than £500. The J$500,000 donation would qualify. Further, British MPs are obliged to register, among other things:

Real-estate acquisition with a value of more than annual salaries;

Rental income at 10 per cent of their salaries;

Other income at one per cent or more of an MP's pay; and

Gifts, including travel, to themselves, spouse or partners valuing one per cent or higher of their pay.

The best antidote to corruption is transparency.

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.