Senate approves MOCA regulations despite some concerns

Senate approves MOCA regulations despite some concerns

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

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The regulations for the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA), including the code of conduct for agents, were affirmed in the Senate last Friday after a lengthy debate.

The prolonged debate was prompted by issues raised by Opposition Senator Wensworth Skeffery including the appointment of the director general by the minister, the process of the code of conduct, and the activities of a proposed disciplinary committee which would include the deputy director general.

“This organisation can't be like any ordinary organisation, or it won't stomp out corruption and deal with major organised crime,” Skeffery insisted as he raised questions about the effectiveness of the much-anticipated policing body which is fashioned off the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

He received some support from Government Senator Kavan Gayle, a trade unionist, who felt that the composition of the agency's disciplinary committee should be similar to that of bodies like the Industrial Disputes Tribunal, which arbitrates workers' issues.

“Some of the things you spoke about would not necessarily be included in the regulations, but would have to be supported by policy,” Gayle said in reference to Skeffery.

However, he felt that the code of conduct would need a code of discipline, which would not limit it to setting out the penalties for breaches but would look at the “scope of permissiveness”.

“You need the code of discipline, which sets out the procedures in terms of how you administer discipline. But, in order for the employees or these officers to do that, the scope of permissiveness is needed. For example, a verbal warning for a first instance, a written warning for a second offence, and suspension for a third offence and so on,” Senator Gayle explained.

“The [penalties] must be aligned to the transgressions; this is why the regulations must have a code of discipline,” he insisted.

He also agreed with Skeffery's issue regarding a conflict of interest arising from a superior officer in the ranks of the agency heading the disciplinary body.

Skeffery argued that the issues they had raised were sufficient to have the affirmation of the regulations delayed so as to have them reviewed.

However, newly appointed Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of National Security Senator Matthew Samuda reminded the Upper House of the inclusion of international support in the Government's efforts to have the long-anticipated final step in creating an independent policing agency with exceptional powers to assist in tackling major crimes, including corruption.

He said the Government has demonstrated its commitment to an overall strategy in tackling these crimes, the objective of setting up MOCA which has already straddled two political administrations.

He said this included over $1 billion in non-budgetary support from the United Kingdom Government, supplemented by an additional $1 billion subvention from the Government.

“I also want to assure members that, in short order, the agency will be given its own budget line, and this should take effect from the next budget (2020/21),” he committed.

However, he noted that, in the meantime, it should be acknowledged that the regulations were tabled on the basis of the authority of the minister of national security, subject to affirmative action in Parliament, to use his power to make the regulations to give effect to the MOCA Act, which was approved two years ago, and ensure its proper administration.

“It is pursuant to this provision that the regulations are placed before the Senate for consideration, and to give effect to the MOCA Act,” he added.

In the debate on the regulations in the House of Representatives last week Tuesday, Opposition spokesman on national security Fitz Jackson had remarked that despite still having some concerns about sections of the regulations, he was willing to allow for the approval of the minister's regulations in light of the long delay.

“I wouldn't want to delay the process any longer,” Jackson told the House.

In his presentation to the House then, Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang noted that the introduction of a code of conduct was a timely signal of the need for law enforcement to operate with the highest degree of integrity.

“I must underscore that in recognising the mandate of MOCA to investigate major organised crime and corruption, it is critical that the integrity of the organisation is unblemished. It is therefore important that clear guidelines for officers are established and enforced,” Dr Chang said.

He also noted that a high level of professionalism and ethical conduct, maintaining confidentiality and a professional image at all times were demanded by the code.

The regulations will now go back to the House of Representatives this week for acknowledgement of the Senate's approval, after which they will be implemented.

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