Tue | Jan 18, 2022

Golding backs yanking muzzle from corruption watchdog

Published:Wednesday | December 1, 2021 | 12:10 AM

One of the chief architects of the gag clause in the Integrity Commission Act has reconsidered his previous hard-line on the controversial provision, arguing that he was not averse to an adjustment in Section 53 (3), which silences the anti-corruption body on announcing investigations until a report is tabled in Parliament.

Mark Golding, leader of the Opposition, who in his capacity as justice minister in the Portia Simpson Miller administration was instrumental in crafting the clause that muzzles the commission, said he was now willing to accept a compromise.

“Given what we’re having where there seems to be a significant delay between the entering on the reference of investigating a matter and then ultimately sending their report to Parliament, I would not be averse to some adjustment to that provision,” Golding said in a Gleaner interview.

Furthermore, he argued that the structure of the commission was different from its predecessor agency, the Office of the Contractor General, where commissioners provide checks and balances to the directors of the various divisions.

“So perhaps it is something that we need not be so cautious about and I would be happy to consider some in-between position,” he said.

Golding indicated that under the now-defunct Office of the Contractor General, there had been instances where “public figures were castigated and their reputation undermined by pronouncements and media frenzy”.

However, the opposition leader raised concern about what he described as the inordinately long periods it took the anti-corruption investigative and prosecutorial body to complete its reports.

He argued that when the legislation was crafted, it was envisaged that the commission would turn out comprehensive reports speedily.

Last week, chairman of the Integrity Commission, Justice Seymour Panton, contended that the anti-corruption agency was the only law enforcement body in Jamaica that was gagged and could not announce investigations it was conducting.

He also made it clear that the announcement of an investigation by its officers into an allegation could not logically undermine the presumption of innocence, or tarnish someone’s reputation when the disclosure follows an allegation that has been introduced in the public domain by a third party.

Panton also highlighted that in many instances the allegations were first announced by lawmakers who called on the anti-corruption body to carry out a probe.

In a press statement issued Sunday, principal director of the National Integrity Action (NIA), Professor Trevor Munroe, urged the Integrity Commission Oversight Committee of Parliament to recommend the deletion of the gag clause.

Munroe said that every other law-enforcement agency has the discretion to indicate when it is undertaking an investigation of serious crime, particularly if that disclosure is helpful to the probe.

Citing an example, Munroe noted that this newspaper, on May 10, 2019, reported that the commissioner of police disclosed that former minister Ruel Reid was being investigated by the police and the Financial Investigations Division five clear months before he was arrested.

The NIA boss pointed out also that there is no conclusive evidence that reputational damage is a necessary consequence of the announcement of an investigation.

Munroe said that removing the gag clause would enhance Jamaica’s compliance with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, to which the country is a signatory.