Editorial | Gag order on Integrity
Our criticism of the Integrity Commission and the legislation which bore it must not be mistaken as sabre-rattling at the personalities, per se, who constitute the oversight body, for they are themselves of unimpeachable integrity.
Its commissioners are retired Justice Karl Harrison, the chairman; retired Justice Seymour Panton; tax expert Eric Crawford; Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis; and Derrick McKoy, former contractor general. Dirk Harrison, David Grey and Joy Powell are its directors. These names represent an august body of Jamaican patriots who have distinguished themselves in their private capacity and in public service.
But our unease with the commission lies in its effort to hide behind legislative technicality to avoid exploration of matters of public interest that threaten the core of our democratic ideals.
No one expects the commission to make indiscreet disclosures about sensitive investigations, but we did not expect the commissioners, or perhaps, more directly, David Grey, the acting director of investigation, to overinterpret Section 53(2) of the Integrity Commission Act in such a legalistically pompous manner so as to exclude the Jamaican people from primary knowledge on basic administrative procedure.
The controversial bit of legislation goes thus: "Until the tabling in Parliament of a report under Section 36, all matters under investigation by the director of investigation or any other person involved in such investigation shall be kept confidential, and no report or public statement shall be made by the commission or any other person in relation to the initiation or conduct of an investigation under this act."
We would have expected a commission of Parliament to understand that its raison d'etre, more broadly, is improving the abysmal levels of public trust and confidence in the State, and particularly in lawmakers. Instead, attempts to extract rudimentary bits of information have been met with officious constipation.
In fact, this newspaper would have expected the Integrity Commission to have adopted an aggressive posture in fulfilling its mandate, especially in the face of public cynicism about the trustworthiness of public officials, and politicians, specifically. For example, in the wake of the failure to table reports on statutory declarations from parliamentarians for the years 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, it would hardly be breaching the above-mentioned Subsection 2 to explain why that information has not come to light, how many parliamentarians have yet to submit data, and what consequence will soon follow should remedial action not be taken.
If this is the extreme Freemason-like position to be adopted by an overcautious commission, we commend to legislators the necessity to review the law to make absolutely clear that the commission can speak on matters of public interest in such a way as to not compromise ongoing investigations.
And while they are at it, Section 52 (2) should also be rescinded:
"The director of investigation shall not, without the prior approval of the secretary to the Cabinet, acting on the direction of the Cabinet, investigate the following matters:
"Any government contract or any matters concerning any such contract, entered into for the purposes of defence or for the supply of equipment to the security forces; or
"The grant or issue of any prescribed licence for the purposes of defence or for the supply of equipment to the security forces;
"Any other contract affecting national security or international relations, which Cabinet determines that based on the nature of such contract and the terms and conditions thereof, ought, in the public interest, to be kept confidential."
And even if the request is granted, the director of investigation must make that report to Cabinet only.
This is not only bad law, it's abominable! For it gives Cabinet sweeping powers of interpretation that can restrict investigation even in matters where there is prima facie evidence of its involvement in corruption. The Integrity Commission and its director of investigation are thus rendered impotent at best, and co-conspiratorial lapdogs at worst.
If the 63-member Lower House is concerned about the appearance of integrity, it would amend the loopholes in this legislation as a matter of priority.