Holness, Phillips joust over Integrity Commission appointment

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips jousted in Parliament yesterday over the interim appointment of Colonel Daniel Pryce as executive director of the Integrity Commission.

Holness, in countering an accusation by the Opposition, made clear that under the provisions of Integrity Commission Act there is no role for the intervention of the prime minister in the appointment of an executive director to the commission.

In response, Dr Phillips called for a committee of Parliament to be convened to discuss the status of the Integrity Commission and to delve into the reasons for delays in making permanent appointments to the body.

On Monday the Opposition took issue with the interim appointment of Colonel Pryce and urged the Government to make the appointment complete.

Parliament passed an amendment to the Integrity Commission Act (2017) in July this year to create the post of executive director. The Government said this would serve to strengthen the management structure of the newly formed commission, which is a merger of the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, Integrity Commission, and the Office of the Contractor General.

Dr Phillips stated in the House yesterday that: “Our concern does not rise to the status of complaint yet, but it is a concern that we have with how the new organisation is getting up to speed in the face of the urgencies of the moment. Therefore, I would recommend that his House calls the appropriate committee to meet and inquire of the chairman to secure for us an understanding as to the causes of the delay in getting permanent appointees to be put in place for this very important organisation”.

He argued that independence should not be interpreted as non-accountability, pointing out that: “This is a parliamentary commission and to that extent it has a responsibility to the Parliament for its actions, and the prime minister is the premier representative of the Parliament with a duty to at least advise as to the conduct of these commissions”.

Prime Minister Holness said the House reserved the authority to seek information from any of the commissions which report to it, but cautioned that this particular commission is still at a delicate stage of development.

“We should exercise a little bit more patience to allow them to at least have up and running the establishment. You may very well get the answer that in trying to move swiftly to put in place some form of establishment, that is why they have had to move with interim appointments… if we decide as a House to move, maybe with further discussions between the opposition leader and myself, we should be very careful how we treat with matters dealing with the Integrity Commission that may expose it to any political divide in its review. They are answerable to the Parliament, but we don't want it to become a political issue,” he asserted.

Prime Minister Holness had earlier told the House that contrary to assertions by the Opposition, he played no part in the recent appointment of the interim executive director.

“I was neither consulted nor advised of this recent appointment. I saw this in the media like everyone else. It stands to reason that in accordance with its establishment as a commission; it would have used its own judgement in conducting its affairs including in appointing an interim executive director. It would not be appropriate for any second guessing or criticism of the exercise of their authority as an independent commission,” he stated.

“Anyone who takes the time to read the Act, which is available online, will note that Section 28(1) of the said Act clearly indicates that “the executive director is appointed by the governor-general, acting on the recommendation of the commission,” Holness said.

“It is unfortunate that the Opposition has again sought to make statements with no basis in fact. I therefore considered it my duty to come before this House today to address the erroneous information that has been disseminated,” the prime minister added.

Phillips had warned that there is a “clear and present danger” in placing the executive director on an interim arrangement, and said he was concerned about temporary appointments to critical offices in the public sector, such as that of the chief justice.

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