Holness, remove the offensive gag clause
CHRISTIE...served as contractor general

The Integrity Commission has once again asked parliamentarians to repeal section 53 of the Integrity Commission Act, the so-called gag clause, which prevents the commission from making any public statements on its investigations until a report is made in Parliament. So, what the clause means, in effect, is that the people of Jamaica do not have to know, even by way of a mere mention, what their watchdog commission on corruption and integrity in public life is doing on their behalf. They have to wait until a full report is made in Parliament.

It is this kind of provision in law that makes politicians and public officials who are prone to corruption very happy. If the public has to wait until a report is made to parliamentarians — many of whom might be in the crosshairs of such report — there might not be much confidence in the report when it is published. The possibility of it being "sanitised" by a corrupt Administration cannot be easily denied. In any event, the gag provision flies in the face of integrity and transparency in the conduct of the people's business. It adds another layer to the kind of secrecy that promotes corruption.

No one is asking for details of what is being investigated, yet the mere mention of a case is not acceptable. How asinine is this?

I do not know why the Government is twisting itself into a pretzel in the matter when it should be doing everything in its power to ensure the utmost transparency in a society that is high up on the international corruption index and a country in which the majority of the citizens are fed up with corruption in public life.

The Andrew Holness-led Administration has not been spared charges of corruption, and verifiably so. The Petrojam scandal and the Ruel Reid saga stand out here. With its large majority in Parliament, it has the power to remove what to many is the offensive clause. There is no credit to be derived by pretending to be transparent while keeping such a provision in place.

I have a strong suspicion where this gag clause might be coming from. When Greg Christie — who fortuitously is the executive director of the commission — was the contractor general, his zeal to expose corruption and his robust pursuit of the corrupt often caused public consternation when names of ministers or high public officials were mentioned in connection with any probe.

I remember well the political volcano that erupted around the divestment of government sugar lands which was undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture under the authority of Aubyn Hill, who chaired the divestment committee. The then minister of agriculture, Dr Christopher Tufton, was mentioned in the probe. No prosecution emanated from the investigation, but the contractor general's report to Parliament was scathing in its denunciation of what were seen to be corrupt behaviour in the divestment process. Those who are interested can see the contractor general's report here: https://www.ocg.gov.jm › 00-CG-INV-SCJ.

There was a big outcry in the society that people's names and reputations were sullied by names being mentioned even before the investigation was concluded and the report done. The conclusion drawn was that, even though no one was prosecuted, the mere mention of people's names was enough to leave the stigma of corruption on those individuals. This would hurt their reputation and make it difficult for them to make a decent living in the future.

I remember doing an article on the subject in which I was somewhat sympathetic to this position. Subsequent conference with Christie and members of his team convinced me that he was on to something, but the mention of the names of people might not have been appropriate.

Once those names are in the public domain it is not possible to pull them back, nor to undo the damage to their reputation, even though they may not be fingered for prosecution. But if one is to err on the side of caution, I believe the people's right to know trumps (oops) any attempt to disguise matters of strong public interest. This is where I now stand.

The commissioners do not set out to get anybody. Their approach to their work is not shambolic, but measured and well considered. While names or institutions may not be called, at the very least we have a right to know that a case of far-reaching public importance is being engaged in the public interest.

The People's business

I love my detractors. My last piece on Dr Davies' retirement posture landed some robust responses in my inbox. They seem to have emanated largely from ardent party supporters who advised me to leave People's National Party (PNP) business alone and stick to preaching.

Dr Omar Davies

I always treat every letter writer with respect, whether they agree with me or not. For one, I am pleased that they even bother to read the piece much less to take the time to write me about it. Everyone deserves attention. I might not agree with them, but I do respect their right to their opinions.

Second, there is no such thing as PNP or Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) business. These are public entities which, at different times, exercise great power over the lives of Jamaicans as its Government. Every citizen at home and abroad has a right to hold them under scrutiny. Furthermore, as I said in the piece, I am the only living Jamaican who has been making public commentary on matters of national importance on a consistent basis. I believe that this has been so for almost 50 years now. I say this not to boast, but to say how great an honour it has been to do so and to help my detractors, especially the younger ones, to understand the journey over which one has come and how much experience one has garnered from the behaviour of political operatives from Michael Manley to Holness in the present.

When I see how Jamaica has been set back by imprudent, hostile, and reckless economic policies to maintain State power, I feel grieved whenever there is any suggestion, as one sees coming from the present iteration of the PNP, that we can return to the profligate spending of the past. I have seen much, felt much, endured much, and believe I have triumphed against great odds.

Third, spare me the party label, please. Over the years I have been labelled PNP and JLP. This is par for the course and I understand the sentiment. What I know is that I have voted on both sides of the political divide — for Manley in the 70s and Edward Seaga in the 80s. I have remained true and faithful to my sensibilities as an independent voting Jamaican. But if both sides can claim you as their own then I should be doing something right. My mantra has always been and still is Jamaica first, Jamaica second, and Jamaica last.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books: Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm, Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life and Beyond Petulance: Republican Politics and the Future of America. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

Raulston Nembhard

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