Constructive criticism of the Integrity Commission yes, destruction no
Probably the only people who will take offence to Integrity Commission Chairman Justice Seymour Panton’s declaration that the old days of public officials routinely ignoring or breaching various pieces of integrity legislation are over, are the Members of Parliament, on both sides of the House, who have not found favour with the way the anti-corruption agency is doing its job.
For those who came in late, Justice Panton made the comment in his remarks published as part of the commission’s annual report for 2022-2023 tabled in Parliament on July 11.
He said that utterances by some parliamentarians about the commission and its work have been “abusive” and “disrespectful”. He also argued that the expectation was that Parliament, as a whole, would be working with the commission in a co-operative way with a view to lessening, if not eradicating, corruption in Jamaica.
“However, much of what has been happening in Parliament in recent times indicates that there is a concerted attack by some parliamentarians on the institution. It is as if there is a desire by them for the institution to be dismantled or at least frozen by fear,” he said.
Justice Panton also stated that the commission is merely carrying out its mandate under the law, which is to combat corruption through the development, implementation, and enforcement of anti-corruption legislation, policy, and initiatives.
He is, of course, correct. As such, we reiterate our call for the combatants on both sides of this dispute to calm down.
The commission, we hold, is a vital institution for the preservation of our democracy and everything should be done to preserve it. At the same time, we maintain that it is not above criticism and should not bristle when it is so challenged, as critical evaluation of its conduct can only make it a better entity.
We note repeated calls for the removal of the so-called gag clause in the Integrity Commission Act which restricts the disclosure of investigations being conducted by the agency until the end of the probe, in order to ensure confidentiality in the process.
The clause, we believe, makes sense at this time, as entities that have great power that can either affect the liberty of someone or, more importantly, people’s reputation, need to get to the point at which they name the subjects of their investigations after they have gathered evidence and are ready to lay charges.
We suspect that the resistance among legislators to remove the gag clause has its foundation in the fact that the executive director of the commission, Mr Greg Christie, during his tenure as contractor general, had the habit of issuing news releases with the names of individuals being investigated by his office. The upshot was that those people, having been named, were often tried and adjudged to be guilty in the court of public opinion.
Unfortunately, in instances when the investigation turned up nothing incriminating, the damage had already been done. That defies the principle of fairness that should guide any decision-making process.
The Integrity Commission should not be seen to be going down that path.