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Gov't may speed up single agency to replace OCG

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter henryb@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, January 07, 2013    

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THE Government could step up efforts to create a single anti-corruption commission this year, following its latest confrontation with the Office of the Contractor General (OCG).

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Omar Davies last week referred to the proposed creation of the single agency in a radio interview, in response to a proposal from Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, for the Government to withdraw its court action against the OCG and introduce legislation redefining its powers.

Minister of Justice Senator Mark Golding had indicated Government's intention to study proposals for a single anti-corruption commission (ACC) in March. Since then he has named a committee, headed by Justice Karl Harrison, and including Shirley Miller, Professor Trevor Munroe and Maurice Bailey, to consult with relevant stakeholders in formulating a report on the optimal design for institutional and legislative anti-corruption arrangements.

The proposal seemed to have won the support of former Contractor General Greg Christie, who — in response to a request from the committee for his cooperation, in June — not only welcomed it, but pointed out that, it was first formally advanced by him in March 2010.

Christie had suggested that at minimum, the commission should merge the functions of the Parliamentary Integrity Commission, the Corruption Prevention Commission, and the OCG, and vesting in them full criminal investigation, arrest, detention, and prosecutorial powers in respect of all corruption-related matters.

He also itemised some 26 remedial recommendations which, he said, he had formally submitted, during his tenure as Contractor General, to the Executive and Legislative arms of the state, "but in respect of which little or no satisfactory actions have yet been taken.

"It is my considered and respectful view that any reform of the current legislative regime, which involves the Commission of the Contractor General, inclusive of the proposed ACC, should also address the referenced recommendations," Christie said.

However, the Government did not formally respond to last Wednesday's announcement by the OCG that it had asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to pursue criminal charges against members of the Cabinet for failing to comply with its "lawful statutory requisitions", relating to its investigations into and its monitoring of, at least, four major projects being pursued by the government.

Information minister, Senator Sandrea Falconer, who is currently off the island, referred the Jamaica Observer to Attorney General Patrick Atkinson, but the AG said that he had no instructions from the Cabinet to address the issue publicly. However, both ministers indicated that the matter should be addressed at today's meeting of the Cabinet, after which a response is expected.

But Holness, in his statement, said that the Opposition was concerned at the deteriorating relationship between the Government and the OCG. He said that the situation was untenable "and leading to extreme positions without any sign of a resolution and undermines the integrity of our anti-corruption system.

"It is untidy and reflects poorly on us internationally, for the Government to ask the courts to limit the powers of scrutiny of its own anti-corruption agency," the Opposition leader said.

He called on the Government to withdraw its actions in the courts against the OCG, and take to Parliament the legislation it sees fit to redefine the powers of the OCG. He also urged the Cabinet to collaborate with the Opposition in creating a policy on strategic investment and development.

"We believe that this will bring a final resolution to the current impasse and re-establish the integrity of our anti-corruption system for the benefit of the people of Jamaica," Holness said.

Generation 2000 (G2K), the young professional arm of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), also issued a statement congratulating the OCG "on its bold and courageous move".

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