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EDITORIAL - Seek fiat to prosecute corruption cases

Published:Tuesday | June 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM

In all likelihood, the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (CPC), the agency charged with policing the integrity of government employees, has begun to prepare its report for the 2013-14 financial year.

Their findings are predictable.

Great swathes of workers who are liable, under law, to file annual asset and liability statements with the commission will fail to have complied, as has been the case since the regulation came into force in 2003, but with accelerated worsening over the last five years. In 2012, the year covered in the commission's last published report, 52 per cent, or 16,216 of the 31,132 employees who should have made declarations, failed to do so.

The data will trace this low rate of compliance across the public sector, including by the police, at nearly 40 per cent of whose members tend not to bother about sending in their statements. The report will also show that when the delinquents are brought before the courts, they can expect leniency - a slap on the wrist. For instance, 123 delinquents who were taken before the court in 2012 were fined a combined J$788,000, or, on average, $6,406.50 apiece. Since the law came into force, and up to the last report, 314 persons were taken to court and fined a total of J$3,946,500, an average of $12,568.47.

But perhaps more disquieting will be the commissioners' perennial lament about when they identify likely cases of "serious breaches" of the law and the slowness with which the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions decides whether to take these allegations of corruption to court.

In the five years up to, and inclusive of, the 2012-13 report, the CPC referred 18 such cases, including eight in 2012, to the DPP. Four were prosecuted, and the commissioners were waiting on the DPP's decision on 14, or 78 per cent of the lot.

"... The commission hopes the director of public prosecutions will address these matters quickly," the commissioners said - as they tend to say annually. But this is an area where the CPC might have an alternative recourse, which we suggest they explore. They might be able to ask the DPP for a fiat to prosecute these cases and engage private lawyers to handle the matters on the CPC's behalf.

Best move

Presuming that this is possible, there ought to be no great hurdle to cross to get the process going, once they appreciate the points of least resistance.

The best move is to engage lawyers who used to be prosecutors, or who are considered senior attorneys. That, judging from the stated standard of the DPP, will ensure, even if the matters are of "high public interest", that the fiat is granted. The only caveat is that the allegations are outlined in a letter to the DPP. Once these conditions are satisfied, the CPC can have its attorney proceed at full speed without having the DPP "standing on their shoulders" as the litigation goes along.

The potential upside of this approach is that it takes the burden off the ODPP and gets the cases moving. The only problem is if the CPC cannot afford to pay private prosecutors. It might apply for an increase in its underfunded budget.

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