Fri | Feb 3, 2023

PM’s silence on asset filing branded ‘disrespect’ to Jamaicans

Published:Tuesday | January 17, 2023 | 1:17 AM

With the certification and gazetting of Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ 2021 statutory declaration seemingly in limbo, director of National Integrity Action (NIA), Professor Emeritus Trevor Munroe, has described the head of government’s silence as “...

With the certification and gazetting of Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ 2021 statutory declaration seemingly in limbo, director of National Integrity Action (NIA), Professor Emeritus Trevor Munroe, has described the head of government’s silence as “disrespect for the Jamaican people”.

The NIA head argued that the annual Integrity Commission check on the income, assets, and liabilities of members of parliament and other public officials is one basic tool democracies utilise globally in tracking whether public officials are getting rich illicitly at public expense.

“To be fair to himself and to avoid speculation, our prime minister needs to address the inability of the Integrity Commission to certify and, thereafter, gazette the summary of his 2021 statutory declaration, as was done in relation to the leader of the Opposition’s statutory declaration over three months ago,” Munroe stated in response to questions posed by The Gleaner on the issue.

Munroe noted that the prime minister not only supported the publication by the Integrity Commission of the annual summary of his assets and Opposition Leader Mark Golding’s, but during the February 2017 debate in the House, he declared: “I believe that this disclosure should apply to all parliamentarians and other public officials.”

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

Calls to Naomi Francis, press secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister, about the status of Holness’ filing were not answered up to press time Monday.

Munroe said that the declaration is in keeping with international best practices and in compliance with Jamaica’s treaty obligations, in particular, with the provisions of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption (1998) and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (2005).

“The public is, therefore, entitled to ask and get answers to the question: Why has the Integrity Commission not yet published the ‘worth’ of the prime minister in the same way that the commission, on October 3, 2022, gazetted the summary of the leader of the Opposition’s assets?”

Munroe reasoned that since the Integrity Commission Act ‘gags’ the anti-corruption body from providing answers as to why the prime minister’s statutory declaration cannot be certified at this time, Holness should address the issue publicly in keeping with his repeated statements of commitment to transparency.

“Moreover, our prime minister should be mindful of his commendable resolve, in his address on being sworn in on September 7, 2020: ‘to avoid occurrences which weaken public trust and damage the integrity of the Government’.”

The NIA director contends that continuing silence on this matter from both the prime minister and the Integrity Commission “is tantamount, in the absence of good reason, to disrespect for the Jamaican people and disregard for the intent of Jamaican anti-corruption law”.

“Should our prime minister choose to continue to exercise his right not to speak and the Integrity Commission not comment, the commission should activate its authority, in accordance with Section 36 (3) of the Integrity Commission Act, to submit to Parliament a report on a ‘matter requiring the special attention of Parliament’, namely, the circumstances underlying the commission’s continuing non-certification of the prime minister’s 2021 statutory declaration,” Munroe said.

On January 9 this year, the commission’s executive director, Greg Christie, said that Holness’ statutory declaration had not yet been published.

While the prime minister had submitted his income, assets, and liabilities to the commission on time, the oversight body indicated that they had not yet been cleared.

Section 42 (3) (b) of the Integrity Commission Act states that “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 and 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”.

The prime minister filed his 2018 declaration late. The one for 2020 was published in January 2022.

His filing for 2019 was gazetted on November 27, 2020, while his declaration for 2020, which covered the period January 1 to September 3 (the date of the last national polls), was published in the Jamaica Gazette on January 10 this year.

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 ... .”