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‘I was late’ - Holness says he could release declarations himself if delay persists; Opposition threatens court action

Published:Thursday | August 8, 2019 | 12:14 AMNickoy Wilson/Gleaner Writer
Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has signalled that he could release his 2018 statutory declarations by the end of the week if the Integrity Commission does not publish the documents.

The prime minister made the statement amid mounting pressure for the Integrity Commission to provide an explanation for its failure to gazette the declarations as mandated by law.

“I am hopeful that before the week is out, the Integrity Commission will make public my declarations. If not, I will have to possibly do it myself,” Holness said yesterday.

He was speaking to journalists following the Company’s Office of Jamaica’s launch of the electronic business registration form at The Jamaica Pegasus in New Kingston.

Admitting that he was late in filing the documents, Holness also pointed out that consideration must be given to due process, which could be a possible explanation for the delay in publishing the records.

“In the new paradigm, in ensuring the integrity of people who serve in public office ... there is a process that has to be followed. As it relates to me as the prime minister of the country, that process has to be followed to the T, and the commissioners have explained to me that they are going through a routine,” he said.

“My specific Integrity Commission report, mine went in a little bit late ... . That process should be complete very soon, and I am hoping that before the week is out, they should be released. I’m eager to have it released as well,” Holness added.

Holness did not indicate how late he was in filing, but in its report to Parliament on July 9, the Integrity Commission indicated that of the 87 declarations due from legislators, 69 had been filed within the deadline. Seventeen were late. But at the time of the report, only a single declaration was outstanding.

Holness had also said on July 22 that the documents could be published by the end of that week.

“I think they will be published any time this week,” he said then in a response to a question from an RJR reporter.

Under the law, the Integrity Commission is mandated to annually publish in the Jamaica Gazette the summary of the statutory declarations of the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips’ declaration was published by the commission on July 12. The summary revealed that Phillips’ family declared assets and income totalling roughly $185 million last year.

In a release yesterday, Phillips threatened to take the Integrity Commission to court for failing to provide an explanation for the delay in publishing Holness’ statutory declarations.

“The prime minister’s failure to adhere to the law is a signal to the public that laws can be ignored with impunity if one holds high political office. I will not condone that,” Phillips said.

He charged that the continued delay gave the impression that the country’s laws are made for only some while others can flout them without consequence.

But Holness has come out in defence of the commission, pointing out that the institution is still relatively new and so should be given time to carry out its functions.

“I don’t know what the basis of that would be. There have been a lot of attacks recently on the Integrity Commission. I think the public should bear in mind that the commission is a new commission. It is integrating several legacy agencies,” he said.

“It takes time for them to get their institutions together, so I think a little of patience would be exercised. I, too, would like to see things move a little faster. By virtue of the information I have – the knowledge I have of the systems that are at work – I think we should give them a little more time to get their institution in order,” Holness said.