Review the law, Integrity Commission urges

Body also rejects PNP's call for rethink of auditor general sitting as a commissioner

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

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The five commissioners of the Integrity Commission are supporting calls for a review of the legislation governing its operations, but they have rejected Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips's suggestion for a rethink of the auditor general being a member of the body.

The Integrity Commission Act of 2017 is slated to be reviewed five years after it was passed, but the commissioners have already decided that they want changes to Section 53(3), which prevents them from updating the public on matters they are investigating.

Under the legislation, “all matters under investigation by the director of investigations [of the Integrity Commission], 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”, until after it has concluded its investigation and its findings have been tabled in Parliament.

“We feel at the moment that we are trapped by the legislation in that it does not allow us to say anything and, at the same time, freedom of the press is such that the media say anything and everything — including falsehoods — which we cannot even try to respond to if we are to disclose matters relating to either situation.

“So that is one matter that has to be amended,” one of the commissioners, retired Justice Seymour Panton, told journalists at the commission's first media briefing yesterday.

“I see where some persons are calling for aspects of the law to be amended, but they have not mentioned this aspect. But this is our first commitment, to ask for this part to be amended so that we can, at least sometimes, defend ourselves against the persons who clearly have interests,” added Panton.

At a recent media briefing Phillips, the president of the Opposition People's National Party, argued that the review of the Integrity Commission Act be immediately undertaken, along with a review of the make-up of the corruption-prevention body.

According to Phillips, the Opposition is concerned about the inclusion of independent bodies such as the Auditor General's Department on the Integrity Commission, especially where they will have a role to play in crafting reports.

But Panton defended the inclusion of Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis on the commission.

“In my view, and I think it is the view of the members of the commission, it is a misguided view to remove, or to think to remove, the auditor general from the commission,” said Panton.

He added: “The auditor general adds a necessary perspective in our deliberations as regards governmental procedures and in relation to misconduct by public officers in the conduct of public affairs. The auditor general has been on earlier commissions and no questions were raised then.

“The fact that there may be discomfort with one report should not be causing people to be putting forward the ridiculous idea of moving the auditor general off. There is no conflict of interest because the auditor general has to probe the same things and more; and if there is something before the commission that requires further in-depth attention, there is nothing to prevent the auditor general's office from executing its duties,” added Panton.

The Integrity Commission is chaired by retired Justice Karl Harrison and includes former Contractor General Derrick McKoy, tax expert Eric Crawford, Panton, and Monroe Ellis.


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