IC called meeting with JLP MP re possible illicit enrichment
... but ‘procedural issue’ forced delay in interview
A government member of parliament (MP) being investigated for possible illicit enrichment was due to face the Integrity Commission (IC) in February for an interview, but it was not held because of a reported “procedural issue”. The official was...
A government member of parliament (MP) being investigated for possible illicit enrichment was due to face the Integrity Commission (IC) in February for an interview, but it was not held because of a reported “procedural issue”.
The official was invited to the commission’s office for the interview “for the purpose of answering questions concerning this investigation”, according to correspondence received by the official and obtained by The Sunday Gleaner last week.
“You are a suspect for the purpose of these proceedings,” noted the IC’s letter that was sent to the official at Gordon House, the seat of Jamaica’s Parliament.
The Sunday Gleaner will not, at this time, disclose the name of the MP or certain other details contained in the document. However, some key members of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) are known to be aware of its contents.
The Integrity Commission’s letter asked the official to “take notice” that it was “investigating the statutory declarations submitted by you to determine, inter alia, whether there are reasonable grounds to suspect that you have contravened Section 14(5) of the Corruption Prevention Act and Section 43(1)(b) and Section 43(2)(a) of the Integrity Commission Act”.
The agency said it will determine whether recommendations will flow from its investigation.
The official was asked to attend the February interview and report to Director of Investigations Kevon Stephenson or his designate.
However, the interview reportedly did not take place as the official’s attorney reportedly raised concerns about “certain aspects” of the process, according to an insider in the Holness administration.
It remains unclear whether the meeting with the MP has since been held, but Sunday Gleaner sources said that up to September, it had not taken place.
“There was a lack of specificity in the nature of the allegations brought against the MP. You know, the IC has to be more efficient and clear in how it communicates on legal matters. It was a procedural issue that delayed the hearing,” the source said.
A response from the official and their attorney is being sought.
UNCLEAR IF IT’S ONE OF THE SIX
The law blocks the Integrity Commission from commenting on any investigation until a report is tabled in Parliament.
As a result, it remains unclear whether the official is among the six members of the House of Representatives whom the IC said it has opened illicit enrichment probes against, according to the agency’s 2022 annual report released in July.
Some 28 other public officials are also under the microscope.
Section 14(5) (a) and (b) of the Corruption Prevention Act says where a public servant owns assets disproportionate to his lawful earnings; and upon being requested by the commission or any person duly authorised to investigate an allegation of corruption against him, to provide an explanation as to how he came by such assets, if he fails to do so; or gives an explanation which is not considered to be satisfactory, he shall be liable for prosecution for the offence of illicit enrichment.
The law says it shall be a defence to a person charged with that, to show the court that they came by the assets by lawful means.
According to Section 43(1)(b) of the Integrity Commission Act, a person who fails, without reasonable cause, to provide information as the director of information and complaints may require, commits an offence and is liable for a fine of up to $500,000 or up to six months in prison. The court can also order that the person comply with the information request.
Section 43(2)(a) of the act deals with a person who commits the offence of knowingly making a false statement in a statutory declaration. A guilty person faces a fine of up to $2 million or up to two years in prison.
‘MUST BE ABOVE SUSPICION’
Each year, the 63 members of Jamaica’s House of Representatives and the 21 senators, as well as thousands of other public officials, must file income, assets and liability statements with the Integrity Commission.
“Yes, these regimes apply to everyone, but for lawmakers, especially, they, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion,” said a JLP official.
The official added: “Parliamentarians, unlike other public servants, are the only people who pass laws. No one else. And members of parliament are part of the regime set up for the purposes of transparency, accountability, reduction and prevention of corruption. So, I understand the unique spotlight being placed on this subset of persons.”
Anti-corruption groups and campaigners have called on the lawmakers under investigation for illicit enrichment to reveal themselves and take a leave of absence from the House of Representatives.
Among the concerns is whether any of the officials sit on parliamentary committees or are in any leadership position in Parliament or the Cabinet and can influence certain policies or laws. The law governing the Integrity Commission is currently being reviewed by a committee.
In August, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said he attempted to find out whether anyone from his side was among the six parliamentarians the IC was investigating for illicit enrichment.
“I have asked as far and as wide, and I haven’t got that response from everyone, but as far as I have been told, no,” he said. “People have been written to, as the Integrity Commission does almost daily, but I have not heard of anyone in my political party being written to for this matter of illicit enrichment.”
Holness also said his administration has taken a decision not to comment on matters relating to the IC.
The opposition People’s National Party also said it contacted all its current legislators and “is satisfied that none on our side has received communication from the IC indicating that they are subjects of investigation for unjust enrichment”.
The officials being investigated are aware, based on an IC response following queries at a meeting of its oversight committee in July.
“All declarants who are being investigated for illicit enrichment must be so advised. Declarants under such an investigation must, by law, be given an opportunity to explain how they came by their assets,” the director of investigation told committee members in an email.
TIMELINE NOW HAZY
Lobby groups like the National Integrity Action, Jamaicans for Justice, and the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP) have argued for the disclosure of the lawmakers under investigation.
JAMP Executive Director Jeanette Calder has even proposed that the Integrity Commission use the provisions of its law to submit a special report to Parliament with the names.
“I believe the Integrity Commission has already done enough work for it to be ratcheted up to a certain point now of formal investigation. I think a report could be put together and placed before the Parliament in short order,” she said on the ‘Morning Agenda’ programme on Power 106 FM over two months ago.
“If this nuh special, me nuh know what is,” Calder said, noting that there are concerns about whether any of the officials are sitting on committees dealing with taxpayers’ money and while they themselves are under probe relating to money and assets.
But with a recent departure from a convention that the Attorney General’s Chambers reportedly said was not in breach of a rule or law, the timeline for an Integrity Commission special report reaching public eyes is even more hazy.
On November 7, House Speaker Juliet Holness controversially ruled that special and annual reports of the IC will be referred to the commission’s oversight committee before being tabled and made public.
The oversight committee is required to convene and consider a report within 30 days of a submission.
The new rule, which the Speaker had the power to make because of the absence of any written procedure, ended a long-standing practice at Gordon House for all reports to be tabled soon after they are submitted.
A political fight has developed as the Opposition has demanded the attorney general’s full opinion that was submitted on the matter. Speaker Holness has refused to grant the request.
Not everyone has supported the call for the names of the six to be released, although Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, in October, acknowledged that “speculation out there is not good for us in the House because everybody is looking at one another to ask, ‘who is it?’”
Although acknowledging recently that persons in other areas of government are suspended from duties while under certain investigations, Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica President Metry Seaga said there are other perspectives to consider, such as the implications for reputations in naming persons before an investigation ends.
“It’s a difficult call … , but, the truth is, this is something coming, it’s not going, and we’re going to find out sooner or later. And those that are found to be guilty should be made to pay,” Seaga said in August.