Fri | Feb 22, 2019

Editorial | Elbow sleeping Integrity Commission

Published:Saturday | January 19, 2019 | 12:00 AM

We are in the dark as to whether Jamaica's lawmakers continue to flout the anti-corruption law by not declaring their assets in a timely manner, as no annual report has been tabled for four years, 2014-2017, anti-corruption crusaders have revealed.

The Integrity Act compels parliamentarians to declare their assets, liabilities and incomes by December 31 each year. Further, the law requires that these filings be contained in an annual report and submitted to the Office of the Prime Minister to be tabled in Parliament. The last time such a report was tabled in Parliament was 2016, and that was in respect of the year 2013.

We declare that to be a dismal record, and go further to suggest that this irresponsible behaviour runs counter to the Government's mandate of promoting transparency and accountability.

We are indebted to Professor Trevor Munroe, head of the independent anti-corruption watchdog, National Integrity Action, for alerting the nation to the continuing delinquency of its lawmakers.

Professor Munroe wrote to Integrity Commission chairman, retired Justice Karl Harrison, pointing out that over a four-year period, ending in 2017, no annual reports detailing the statutory declarations of parliamentarians had been tabled in the House of Representatives as required by law.

To add insult to injury, Professor Munroe pointed out that the 2013 filing was incomplete, with 18 government and 18 opposition members failing to include relevant information. As a result, their submissions were "not finalised". He added that information sought from parliamentarians was not forthcoming, which meant their filings could not be properly analysed.

Non-compliance by parliamentarians is grounds to question whether the people who serve in public life have a genuine desire to create a strong Integrity Commission. Could it be that creating this commission was done to placate the public's demand for accountability and probity in public affairs?

The new Integrity Commission was created by Parliament as the overarching anti-corruption agency with powers to investigate and prosecute corruption in Jamaica. This cannot be a fangless body. Its work ought to disturb the status quo and expose corruption wherever the trail leads.

Holding public servants accountable is one of the critical first steps in battling political corruption. And the public has a vested interest in learning whether lawmakers are adhering to the legislation that they themselves have helped to enact.

 

Issues still exist

 

Public commentators and society leaders speak incessantly about corruption, and even with safeguards in place, the issue continues to dog all aspects of life. Metry Seaga, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters' Association, brought the issue to the fore again this week. He has put figures to facts, estimating that five per cent of GDP is lost to corruption. That translates to US$738 million each year.

He cited the blatant misuse of public office for private gain and the prevalence of corruption in most government institutions. He described corruption as a disease that has reached overwhelming proportions.

The businessman concluded that anti-corruption rules are either inadequate or the agencies too weak to enforce them.

Jamaica's 68th ranking on the Corruption Perception Index, which collects data from 175 countries, gives heft to Mr Seaga's argument because that represented a slippage of 14 points.

The new Integrity Commission is made up of a formidable group, and if they want to demonstrate that they take their assignment seriously, let them start by ensuring that parliamentarians' disclosures see the light of day. Its members ought not hide behind an apparent gag order but update the public on why these reports have not been tabled. A lack of transparency and engagement will only erode the credibility and trustworthiness of the Integrity Commission.