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Bunting warns stalling of reports could attract adverse assessments from civil, anti-corruption bodies

Published:Saturday | July 8, 2023 | 12:14 AM

LEADER OF Opposition Business in the Senate, Peter Bunting, is warning that the stalling of the tabling of reports from the Integrity Commission (IC) and the Auditor General’s Department (AuGD) by the Speaker of the House and Senate president could trigger adverse assessments of the country by both local civil society groups and international anti-corruption watchdog institutions such as Transparency International (TI).

In January 2023, TI said that Jamaica had improved one place in its 2022 corruption perception index (CPI) country rankings.

However, the country remained the fourth most corrupt state in the Caribbean based on the CPI rankings.

Jamaica scored 44 on the CPI, with a ranking of 69 out of 180 countries in the 2022 index.

“I would be disappointed if they were not paying attention to these unfortunate developments,” Bunting said of anti-corruption watchdogs including TI.

He charged that the actions of Jamaica’s legislature against the country’s two premier anti-corruption agencies were undermining two of Jamaica’s democratic institutions, one of which has been established with constitutional backing.

He questioned the actions of the parliamentary leadership, noting that the long-held convention of tabling reports from the AuGDshould not come to a screeching halt overnight to get an opinion from the Attorney General’s Department.

Bunting argued that nothing was wrong in getting an opinion on the law governing the tabling of reports.

However, he said that in the interim one would believe that good sense would prevail by continuing the convention until the legal decision was presented to Parliament.

Bunting remarks came yesterday during a Gleaner interview.

Yesterday, Senate President Tom Tavares-Finson echoed sentiments similar to that of House Speaker Marisa Dalrymple Philibert in relation to the non-tabling of reports from the AuGD and the IC.

“A determination has been made by the Speaker to refer the matter to the attorney general for an opinion. The chambers has apparently given the Speaker an undertaking that the matter will be dealt with, with alacrity and thereafter will proceed according to the opinion of the chambers,” the Senate president said yesterday.

Continuing, Tavares-Finson said: “If it is that there is an ambiguity that needs the clarification of the attorney general and that is the opinion of the Speaker of the House, one that I must tell you that I share, it would be irresponsible of me when a request for clarification…” he said without completing the comment as he was engaged by Bunting in the Upper House.

Bunting sought clarity from the Senate president about what he meant by “ambiguity” in the law.

However, Tavares-Finson said that the ambiguity was explained at length by the Speaker in the Lower House.

“I am not really minded to go through it because it is really going to take some time,” he said, to an outburst of laughter from Bunting.

But Bunting told The Gleaner yesterday that the position taken by the Senate president and House Speaker was “red herring”.

“For this backdoor method to be used to impede the reports of these bodies coming to parliamentarians is unfortunate and dangerous. As an opposition, we cannot allow this to go unchallenged,” he said.

Next move

Bunting said that the parliamentary opposition will reveal its next move on Tuesday if the two reports from the IC and the three reports from the AuGD that have been before the Houses are not tabled.

Last week, the Senate president stirred controversy when he tabled a report he received from the IC on May 31 and was subsequently recalled twice by the anti-corruption body.

In stark contrast to the Senate president’s action, Speaker Dalrymple Philibert had earlier returned her copy of the report to the IC.

Tavares-Finson told the Senate last week that he was tabling the report in the “interest of transparency and clarity”.

According to the Senate president, the commission did not present a legal basis for him not to table the report.

But Bunting said he was perplexed by the Senate president’s explanation for not tabling the reports from the IC yesterday.

According to Bunting, the Senate president indicated last week that he was an independent presiding officer.

“Your statement this morning (Friday) is in complete contradiction to that statement last week and I am particularly disappointed since presiding officers have no authority in law to impede the timely and seamless publication of these crucial reports,” he said.

He charged that the Senate president’s action could create the perception that politically unfavourable information was being withheld from the public, which was inconsistent with the rule of law and the principle of transparent governance.