Holness to open long-awaited debate on MOCA Bill tomorrow

By Balford Henry
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, September 25, 2017

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The long-anticipated debate on the Major Organised Crime & Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) Bill will commence in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, “I will be opening the debate on the MOCA Bill on Tuesday,” Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the media in response to a question about the progress of the Bill at his quarterly media briefing at Jamaica House on Wednesday.

Holness tabled the Bill during his 2017/18 Budget Debate presentation in March, noting that it is was designed to transform the body into an elite law enforcement and investigative agency, operating independently of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). It formed party of the Government's 'Plan Secure Jamaica' initiative, which is aimed at fostering “peace and prosperity” by tackling challenges associated with crime, violence and poverty.

In August 2014, the Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force (MOCA TF) were merged to form The Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) whose goals are to: tackle serious organised crime and to stamp out corruption in Jamaica; focus on bringing high-value criminal targets to justice; improve governance and security in Jamaica through tackling serious transnational organised crime in all its forms; and provide deterrence.

During the budget debate, the prime minister noted that corruption was one area in which his Government had “significant focus”, particularly in light of the country's challenges with crime and violence.

“Sometimes we miss the link between corruption and crime. Corruption that allows illegal guns and ammunition to come through our ports...that allows stolen motor vehicles to be registered and resold...corruption that furtively slows up and even denies the granting of a permit in order to secure payment...must stop. MOCA is designed to tackle that kind of corruption,” he stated.

He said that, in the circumstances, MOCA will be the body that has the powers to investigate public officials, or any other person or body providing a service to the public.

There has been some concern since the tabling of the Bill about the oversight of the agency, as it will not be the responsibility of the JCF.

The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has raised concern regarding aspects of the Bill to establish MOCA as an independent body, arguing that the proposed changes would diminish transparency and accountability in MOCA's operations.

MOCA officers accused of breaching the rights of citizens are currently being investigated by INDECOM. But INDECOM's boss, Terrence Williams, has noted that the Bill proposes an oversight committee to exclusively investigate complaints against MOCA officers.

He has argued that while this committee will sit as an executive body reviewing complaints, it would need ministerial permission to bring in another agency to conduct on-the-ground investigative work.

Prime Minister Holness had indicated during his budget presentation that he was “not minded” to have the Bill sent to a joint select committee of Parliament for further review.

“I believe that the issues are quite clear and that we can debate it right away and have it passed, as it is in the public's interest,” he said in March.

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