Editorial | Mr Holness has a problem
The prime minister isn’t an ordinary citizen. Not only is he reposed with tremendous power for the management of the country, but articulates national aspirations and is expected to be a symbol thereof. That is why we find it discomfiting that Andrew Holness’ name appears among eight parliamentarians whose financial filings for 2016 the Integrity Commission couldn’t place its seal of approval on.
The report containing that information was tabled in Parliament only last week and is the latest of the documents, which are to be produced annually, capturing how legislators adhere to the law that was among the statutory deterrents to corruption. In this regard, Prime Minister Holness should say whether he has since removed the concerns that caused this commission to, essentially, disqualify his filings, as well as assure Jamaicans of his current good standing, even ahead of future reports by the institution.
The old institution to which legislators made the income, assets and liabilities filings has, for the past year, been collapsed into the new commission that also embraces the one to which public servants made their reports, as well as the old office of the contractor general that was charged with keeping the award and execution of government contracts honest. However, the objectives and filing arrangements remain largely the same.
Legislators are to make an initial declaration to the commission on being elected to the House of Representatives, or appointed to the Senate, and thereafter annually, at the end of December, but have three months, until the following March, to submit the returns. They are required to make declarations for another year after leaving Parliament.
If legislators meet the filing deadline and the commission has no queries or follow-ups, these annual reports, presumably, could be ready soon after March. That is never the case. Indeed, a full year after the reports were initially due, 61 of the 184 that were, or a third, filed, “remained”, according to the commission, “incomplete”.
SPEAK WITH GREATER CLARITY
Indeed, this report was submitted to Parliament on April 26, more than 27 months beyond the year that is covered by its declarations. And even at this point, there were still legislators with outstanding information, although the commission said that at the time it sent its report to Parliament, “most of those that were outstanding have since been cleared”.
The fact that the prime minister’s name appears on the list of the “not cleared” filings suggests that his account remained problematic up to the time of the tabling of the document. This, if it is the case, is bad for Mr Holness’ personal authority, perceptions of accountability and the administration’s commitment to good governance.
Mr Holness, having served as prime minister for three months earlier, returned to office in 2016 on a strong anti-corruption platform. But while his rhetoric on the issue has remained strong, his administrations have been dogged by serial allegations of misuse of public resources, if not specific allegations of graft and kickbacks. Only a fortnight ago, the International Monetary Fund pointedly told the Government that fighting corruption should be a priority issue and called on it to “empower” the Integrity Commission.
The prime minister must heed these calls, starting with addressing any matter, such as this one with the statutory filings, that could reflect negatively on his own integrity. That is necessary if he is to take a hard line against recalcitrant colleagues and others over whom he has authority.
At the same time, the new Integrity Commission, in its coming reports, has to speak with greater clarity, absent the obfuscation and ambiguities, which infected the language of its predecessor(s).