House Speaker in a pickle
Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert’s tenure as House Speaker is hanging in the balance after the Integrity Commission ruled that she be slapped with eight charges in relation to her statutory declarations over seven years.
Additionally, the commission’s director of investigation, Kevon Stephenson, in a report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, recommended that the report be referred to the prime minister “for him to take such disciplinary and/or administrative actions which both recognises the seriousness of Mrs Dalrymple-Philibert’s conduct” and to deter recurrence.
The ruling follows an investigation by the commission in relation to a motor vehicle that Dalrymple-Philibert, the Member of Parliament for Trelawny Southern, had purchased through a concession afforded to legislators and which she failed to declare in her filings.
The commission’s director of corruption prosecution ruled that Dalrymple-Philibert be charged with four counts of making a false statement in breach of the Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act, 1973 in her statutory declaration for the periods ending December 31, 2015, February 25, 2016, December 31, 2016, and December 31, 2017; and four counts of breaching the Integrity Commission Act, 2017 for making a false statement for the periods ending December 31, 2018, December 31, 2019, September 3, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
Additionally, Stephenson said he found that Dalrymple-Philibert had breached Section 36 of the Customs Act and recommended that his report be referred to the commissioner of customs to recover the duties paid on the vehicle and to apply “such penalties as the commissioner may deem to be appropriate”.
Stephenson also recommended that the report be referred to the financial secretary in order to recover allowances paid to the House Speaker in relation to the vehicle.
However, shortly after the report was tabled, Dalrymple-Philibert issued a statement explaining that she had forgotten to include the motor vehicle, which was primarily used by her sister, in her declarations.
The House Speaker said she was surprised at the conclusion reached by the commission, given that she has “always filed [her] statutory declarations and have done so in a timely and transparent manner”.
Declaring that she has “nothing to hide”, Dalrymple-Philibert explained that in 2015 she had applied for and obtained a concession to purchase a 2015 motor vehicle.
“The vehicle was purchased for $6 million and financed by a loan of $5.8 million from Sagicor Bank. The loan was taken out by Lincoln Eatmon, my sister’s spouse, and a deposit of $200,000 was paid by both my husband and Mr Eatmon,” she said.
“The vehicle was used primarily by my sister, her spouse, and her son (my nephew), and occasionally by me when I am in Kingston. This is due to the fact that my husband and I owned more than one motor vehicles and as a rural MP I preferred driving an SUV because of the rough terrain that I am accustomed to traversing when in South Trelawny,” she said.
Dalrymple-Philibert said that the Government had placed a three-year restriction on her ability to sell or transfer the vehicle, noting that it remained in her name and was never sold to anyone until May 2023.
“The vehicle was never sold to my sister, her spouse or any other family member,” she said.
Further, she said, Sagicor Bank placed a lien on the title until the loan was repaid in 2022.
“Therefore, my ownership of the vehicle was a public record at Tax Administration Jamaica, the bank, the insurance company, and the Motor Vehicle Examination Department. As stated earlier, the vehicle was primarily used by my sister and her family and at the time of filing my statutory declaration I honestly forgot about the vehicle and did not include it among the list of other vehicles I declared,” she said.
Dalrymple-Philibert said that when the Integrity Commission called her to meet with them, she reviewed her file and called the clerk to the Houses of Parliament and requested a copy of the list of vehicles that she had acquired using the motor vehicle concession.
“Having received the list which confirmed the 2015 vehicle, I revealed to the Integrity Commission that the vehicle was unintentionally omitted from my statutory declaration,” she said.
In the report, the director of investigation stated that he was in possession of a letter of response dated March 29, 2022, from Dalrymple-Philibert in which she had indicated that she does not own a 2015 Mercedes Benz GLA 250.
However, he said evidence obtained from Tax Administration Jamaica, Ministry of Finance, Jamaica Customs, and Sagicor Jamaica Limited, confirmed that the said motor vehicle was acquired and registered in Dalrymple-Philibert’s name” from 2015 until its divestment in May 2022″.
The director of investigation said that due to the inconsistencies outlined with respect to the ownership of the motor vehicle, an interview was conducted with Dalrymple-Philibert on February 27, 2023.
He said that when she was asked whether the information contained in the declaration provided an accurate and complete representation of the asset owned, Dalrymple-Philibert replied, “You know, I am going to look at a document here to verify. So, I am going to tell you now that I got a letter from the Integrity Commission about a vehicle which I owned, a Benz, and always said I never drove a Benz ,and so I wondered what they were talking about. When I got the letter to come to the Integrity Commission I said I would go because I have nothing to hide. Last week when I sat in the Supreme Court, I remembered that I got a concession for a vehicle which my sister drove until she sold it. I never drove it and I never had possession. I also requested from Parliament a list of my concessions for which they replied with a document showing that I received concessions for three vehicles. The documents detailed the Benz vehicle and so I must declare it.”
In her release on Tuesday, Dalrymple-Philibert pointed to page 34, section 5.2.0 of the commission’s report which stated that “save for the omission identified” she had “discharged her obligation under the law to file statutory declarations for the period 2015-2021”.
According to Dalrymple-Philibert, the commission recommended in its report that she resubmits a complete and accurate statutory declaration as required by law.
“I will do so by tomorrow, Wednesday, September 20, 2023,” she said.
“Let me be clear, I did not knowingly misrepresent the position to the Integrity Commission; it was a genuine oversight,” she said, noting that the matter is now in the hands of her legal team led by King’s Counsel Peter Champagnie.
During Tuesday’s sitting of the House, Dalrymple-Philibert explained that she decided to table the report “to ensure that there is no accusation of conflict of interest”.
“I have done so because I have absolutely nothing to hide. After the report is tabled today, the report is being sent to the Integrity Oversight Committee for its deliberation. I am also, as Speaker of this House, and in the interest of transparency, sending the report to the Ethics Committee,” she said.
She noted that under the standing orders 73f and 73g, all members of the House will then be given the opportunity to discuss the contents of the report in both committee meetings.
“Additionally, all members will be given another opportunity to discuss the contents of both reports when they are returned to this House,” she said.
As she went on to the next agenda item, Opposition Leader Mark Golding rose and addressed her: “I have a question for you, arising from what you just said.”
However, Dalrymple-Philibert refused to entertain Golding, who remained on his feet as she continued with the agenda.
After making several attempts to ask his question, and realising that he would not be accommodated, Golding and the other members of the Opposition walked out of the Chamber.