‘Let law take its course’
FORMER Speaker of the House of Representatives and retired parliamentarian Pearnel Charles Sr says the law should be allowed to take its course in the current maelstrom surrounding his successor, Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert.
Dalrymple-Philibert is under pressure following an Integrity Commission ruling that she be charged for multiple breaches of the Integrity Commission Act and the Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act, 1973, after she allegedly made a false statement in her statutory declarations over a six-year period.
Speaking to the Jamaica Observer amidst calls from several quarters for Dalrymple-Philibert to resign from her post, Charles Sr, who served from 2016 to 2020 in the role, said, “The law specifically states what should happen if you fail to submit a complete declaration of what you own. It says clearly you have to go to court and explain to the judge and the judge would either fine you, or do as the law requires. The law is there, and I would do what the law says.”
Asked if he was of the opinion that Dalrymple-Philibert should resign from her role as House speaker until the matter was completed Charles said: “Should she remain as House speaker, should she remain as Member of Parliament? The law specifically states what should happen and I would go with what the law says. Many members of parliament have failed to submit their complete declaration and they have gone to court and they have been fined and they go back to Parliament. So I would do exactly what the law says because the law anticipates that things like this would happen; you either forget or you deliberately do it and the law says what should be done,” the veteran politician stated.
The ruling, contained in a report tabled in the House on Tuesday, 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, it said Dalrymple-Philibert had breached Section 36 of the Customs Act and recommended that the 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”. It 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.
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.
On Wednesday, the National Integrity Action, Jamaican Accountability Portal and the Advocates Network, in a joint statement, demanded that the House speaker resign immediately from her position as speaker. According to the entities, “it is undemocratic for the speaker to preside over the hearing relating to a report about her conduct”.
“She is the subject of the report from the Integrity Commission and the director of corruption prosecution has ruled that she be charged with multiple offences committed between 2015 and 2021. We have noted that the speaker has also decided that the report be sent to the Ethics Committee of which she is chairman. This is wrong,” the groups maintained, while calling for a Code of Conduct for Parliamentarians.
In the meantime, Charles Sr, responding to questions from the Observer on Wednesday over Dalrymple-Philibert’s status, said, “She is not being charged because she is speaker; she is charged because all members of parliament are required to make declarations and whether you are speaker, prime minister, ordinary member or minister, if you forget to put something in your declaration, then you are going to be charged because you have a declaration which says this is all that you have.”
“Now she, like many of us, has forgotten certain things when we are making our declarations and the law has made arrangement for that. So she will probably go to court and the judge will take a decision on that. But whoever you are, if you are required to make a declaration of all that you have and you didn’t, then you have committed a breach of the law,” he stated.
Asked about the precedent set by other parliamentarians who have stepped aside when being investigated, he maintained, “I would abide by what the law says for anybody who fails to do it; if you should retire, resign or go to court, that is what the law says, that is what should be done. The law specifically says if you do not follow what the requirement is what should be done. It is not a question of other people wanting to write their own law now. If the law requires them to step aside, then that is what they should do.”
Under the 1973 Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act, any person who fails, without reasonable cause, to furnish to the commission a statutory declaration which he is required to furnish in accordance with the provisions of this Act; or knowingly makes any false statement in any such statutory declaration; or fails, without reasonable cause, to give such information as the commission may require under Section 7 of the Act; or fails, without reasonable cause, to attend an enquiry being conducted by the commission; or knowing gives any false information in such enquiry, shall be guilty of an offence, and shall, on summary conviction in a Resident Magistrate’s Court be liable to a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to both such fine and imprisonment.
Where the offence involves the deliberate non-disclosure of a parliamentarian’s property the court may, in addition to the imposition of a fine or term of imprisonment or if the properly involved is situated within the island, declare that it be forfeited to the Crown.
If the property involved is situated outside the island, the court can order that an amount equivalent to the value of such property (the value to be assessed as directed by the court), be paid by the parliamentarian concerned to the Crown.