Hold lawmakers accountable over declarations - Failure to prosecute lawmakers eroding trust in justice system, say critics
Anti-corruption campaigners erupted with outrage yesterday charging that Jamaican lawmakers are helping to erode confidence in the rule of law by failing to declare their assets within the time required by law.
Paula Llewellyn, the nation’s chief prosecutor, also faced scathing criticisms for seemingly going “soft” on parliamentarians who ignore the corruption watchdog entity.
The outrage was in response to a Gleaner report that over a three-year period, starting in 2014, sixteen current and former members of parliament (MPs) and senators were referred to the Office Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) for either failing to file declarations of their income, assets and liabilities with the Integrity Commission on time or ignoring requests for additional information.
Citing the commission’s annual reports for the calendar years 2014, 2015, and 2016, which were quietly tabled in the House of Representatives, The Gleaner revealed, too, that 92 current and former lawmakers were also reported to the leaders of their respective political parties over the three-year period for filing their declarations after the deadline.
In addition, the reports indicated that five declarations for the 2013 calendar year, including that of then Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, “were not cleared due to inadequate responses to queries”. Nine declarations, including those submitted by current government ministers Delroy Chuck and Daryl Vaz were not cleared in 2014 and 2015 for the same reason.
“The foregoing … should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that Jamaica is suffering from a troubling breakdown in the rule of law. The country’s very lawmakers are breaking the law with impunity,” former Contractor General Greg Christie posted on Twitter.
“There’s no recourse for the system is incapable of holding them accountable,” he added, pointing to a 2018 report by the State Department in the United States which found that Jamaica has a “poor record” of prosecuting corruption cases.
There was still no word from the ODPP up to late yesterday about the cases referred to it by the Integrity Commission.
Political commentator Reverend Peter Espeut suggested that there is an “agreement” between the country’s two main political parties that no politicians will be prosecuted for failing to declare their assets and liabilities.
“The PNP (People’s National Party) will let off the JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) because they expect the JLP to let them off when their time come,” he charged.
That’s why Espeut has repeated his call for the public to have full details of the declarations made by lawmakers.
“Whether they file the declarations or not makes no difference [if] we are never going to see it and we are never going to be able to validate it,” he argued.
“So they are stupid not to make it because if they make it, they could never be accused or prosecuted for anything because nobody would ever see it to tell them they lie,” he added.
Executive director of the corruption watchdog group National Integrity Action, Professor Trevor Munroe, insisted that it undermines trust and confidence in the nation’s justice system.
Munroe warned that the continued breaches of the Integrity Act is undermining respect for the principle of equity before the law and helping to reinforce the perception that the “powerful and the connected are above the law”.