Wed | Jan 26, 2022

Holness’ declaration yet to be published

Published:Friday | December 10, 2021 | 12:14 AM

The statutory declaration of Jamaica's Prime Minister Andrew Holness appears to be hanging in the balance, as the Integrity Commission, the country's single anti-corruption body, is yet to publish in the Jamaica Gazette a summary of his 2020 income, assets, and liabilities.

The prime minister's statutory declaration was last gazetted on November 27, 2020, covering the period January 1, 2019, to December 31, 2019.

Checks with the Integrity Commission in recent times to ascertain why the prime minister's statutory declaration is yet to be published have been met with predictable silence. Section 56(1) of the Integrity Commission Act prohibits the commission from commenting on the statutory declarations of parliamentarians.

The provision says: “Every person having an official duty under this act, or being employed or otherwise concerned in the administration of this act, shall regard and deal with as secret and confidential all information, statutory declarations, government contracts, prescribed licences, and all other matters relating to any matter before the commission ... .”

Queries made Wednesday with the prime minister's press secretary, Naomi Francis, on whether he was aware of any issues that might have delayed the gazetting of the 2020 declaration have not been answered.

Then Leader of the Opposition, Dr Peter Phillips, had his statutory declaration gazetted on September 18, 2020.

The report covers the period January 1, 2020, to September 3, 2020, the day before Phillips announced his resignation as opposition leader and president of the People's National Party.

Phillips' successor, Mark Golding, who became opposition leader after winning the party presidency in November 2020, told The Gleaner on Wednesday that his declaration is due next year.

The legislation gives no specific timeline on when the declarations should be published.

Section 42 (3) of the Integrity Commission Act reads: “Where, upon examination of a statutory declaration, the director of information and complaints is satisfied that the statutory declaration has been duly completed, he shall so inform the commission,” which shall do two things.

In the first instance, the commission shall cause to be issued to the public official or parliamentarian, as the case may be, confirmation of this in writing.

Second, notwithstanding the provisions of Section 56, the commission shall cause to be published a summary of the statutory declaration made by the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition in the Gazette.

Executive director of the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal, Jeanette Calder, said that Section 56 (1) of the Integrity Commission law should be struck from the legislation.

She argued that the country's legislators appeared to have contemplated that anything – and everything – before the Integrity Commission was to be treated confidentially.

Holness has had hiccups with his statutory declaration in the past, with the watchdog agency indicating that it could not give the all-clear sign to the 2017 statutory declaration of the head of government.

However, Holness received the green light and the statutory declaration of his family, including his wife, Juliet Holness – the member of parliament for St Andrew East Rural – was subsequently published.

ACT SHIELDS LAWMAKERS

Meanwhile, Calder has expressed concern that the legislation shields members of parliament who may be in breach of the Integrity Commission Act.

Speaking hypothetically, Calder questioned whether the public would know if any of the leaders in the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament committed an offence or benefited from ill-gotten gain.

In its annual report for 2021, the Integrity Commission reported that two parliamentarians and six public officials had been referred for prosecution for allegedly providing false information to the Integrity Commission in their statutory declarations.

The anti-corruption agency also reported that two parliamentarians and six public officials were being investigated for illicit enrichment.

The report did not clarify whether the lawmakers facing prosecution were the same ones under investigation for illicit enrichment, or whether they were still in Parliament.

“For all you and I know, that four parliamentarians could have been charged, prosecuted, paid a fine, and the public of Jamaica don't know. That is highly unacceptable,” said Calder.

The JAMP executive director charged that the gag clauses in the Integrity Commission legislation were untenable.

She said that voters in September 2020 could have unknowingly re-elected members of parliament who ran afoul of the law owing to provisions that muzzled the Integrity Commission from interacting with the public.

“If I have my own business ... JAMP is a sensitive organisation for what we do. Can you imagine if my HR person said, 'Jeanette we are hiring six people. We have been told that two of them are before the courts but I am not allowed to tell you who they are'.”

“Nobody in the private sector would accept that, but this is what our legislators have asked us to accept. It's crazy!”

Editor's Note: As referenced in the questions to Prime Minister Holness, his 2020 declaration of income, assets and liabilities is due. His statutory declaration covering the period January 1, 2019-December 31, 2019, was published on November 27, 2020, not November 27, 2019.

editorial@gleanerjm.com