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PM: Public should see commish contracts, but ...

Published:Tuesday | March 2, 2021 | 12:18 AMJovan Johnson/Senior Staff Reporter

Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the employment contracts of the police and tax commissioners should be made public.

However, he said there may be “legal hurdles” that have to be surmounted before the documents for Major General Antony Anderson and Ainsley Powell can be shared.

Holness’ statement comes as the Opposition, civil society groups and anti-corruption advocates reacted with shock that the Office of the Services Commissions (OSC) last week denied The Gleaner’s Access to Information (ATI) request, invoking a clause under the law preventing the disclosure of “private affairs”.

“Yes, I think the public should know,” the prime minister said during a press conference on Sunday.

“But, can it be just done by turning it over? Are there legal issues – legal hurdles – that we have to cross? Sometimes, I suspect that that may be the case. And, as long as we follow the process, definitely the information should be shared.”

Holness said that he would ask Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte to explain the legal issues that have to be addressed.

He said a similar approach should be taken on whether any contract between the Government and Amber Group for the operation of the JamCOVID website should be released.

The disclosure issue has emerged as Anderson’s current three-year contract as police chief approaches its expiration, having been in effect since March 19, 2018.

Powell was appointed commissioner general of Tax Administration Jamaica on October 1, 2014.

Aside from not knowing the salaries paid to the two commissioners, it is not clear whether there were specific performance-related clauses in the contracts and, if so, how they have been evaluated.

National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang has signalled his interest in having Anderson remain as commissioner, although his opinion is not legally required by the Professor Gordon Shirley-led Police Service Commission, which makes the selection.

A right to know

Despite former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington has said “enough” is already known about Anderson, in siding with the OSC, the opposition People’s National Party joined a growing list of voices insisting that the contracts should be released.

“I don’t see any basis on which the information can be denied once the individuals are paid by the public purse,” said Julian Robinson, opposition spokesman on finance.

“Once people are paid by the public purse, which means from taxpayers’ funding, there is a right for the public to know what they earn and the conditions under which they are employed,” he told The Gleaner yesterday.

Added Robinson: “Notwithstanding whatever sensitivity may exist around the particular position, ... it’s no different from us as politicians, and it shouldn’t be any different for anyone whose salaries come from the public purse.”

The Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, Jamaica Civil Service Association, National Integrity Action (NIA) and advocate Howard Mitchell were left puzzled by the decision.

Helene Davis-Whyte, the confederation’s president, said while salaries may be of interest to the public, the introduction of contracts to the public service as part of a performance-measuring tool gives greater imperative for disclosure.

“His (Anderson) contract would not be subject to the same kind of scrutiny as would the contract of anybody who is employed using the direct employment route,” she said, explaining contracting as a means of employment is a departure from the general approach to hiring persons to posts approved by Parliament.

NIA Principal Director Professor Trevor Munroe said because of citizens’ constitutional right to receiving information, “there would need to be an especially compelling reason for withholding or keeping secret the contract or salary of public officers paid from the public purse”.

The Gleaner has requested an internal review of the decision, as the ATI Act allows.