'I did nothing wrong' braggadocio
GOLDING... the explanation offered by the commission that Section 53(3) of the Integrity Commission Act precluded it from submitting the findings of the director of corruption prosecution is, to put it bluntly, hogwash

"Only God is infallible," my late grandfather once told me. "When you make a mistake the honourable thing to do is to own up to it and apologise," he often told me.

In later years I came to understand that an apology was much more than simply saying, "I am sorry." As I understand it, an apology has to meet three basic standards. It has to be heartfelt. Those who are wronged know when an apology is genuine. And folks know when a person is simply mouthing words for purposes of mere optics. An honest apology comes from the heart and less so from the lips.

Acceptance of culpability is another standard of a good apology. "I am sorry, but it is or was not really my fault," is a frequent submission. This and similar qualifiers effectively cancel the 'apology'. How can I make amends? This is another critical standard of a real apology. Here you acknowledge error(s), then take concrete action to make up for the transgression.

Infallibility is God's domain. Some do not get it. Is that one of the explanations for the recent doubling and 'tripling' down of the Integrity Commission of Jamaica?

A great pall

Consider these two banner headlines: 'We did nothing wrong... Under-fire Integrity Commission defends its handling of allegations against PM' (Jamaica Observer, February 18, 2023) and 'Christie: I have done nothing wrong... Defends anti-corruption stewardship; says criticism of tweets disingenuous' (The Gleaner, February 20, 2023)

The Jamaica Observer news item said among other things: "The Integrity Commission has rejected allegations of misstep, if not bungling, in its decision to table a report in Parliament which stated that Prime Minister Andrew Holness could face corruption charges, while being aware that its director of corruption prosecution had ruled that he should not be charged.

"With commentators and the general public slating the body since news broke on Thursday that it had allowed the tabling of a report from its director of investigation accusing Holness of a possible conflict of interest over contracts issued to a friend of his, more than a decade ago, while being aware that he had been cleared, the five directors of the Integrity Commission on Friday fired back.

" 'There has been strict compliance with the law. Adverse comments in respect of the commission or its director of investigation are unwarranted and misconceived,' the directors said in a release as the commission faced calls for heads to roll."

The Gleaner's news item delivered these and other details: "Integrity Commission (IC) Executive Director Greg Christie has strongly rejected calls for his resignation, declaring that he has been unbiased in his duties over the last three years at the anti-corruption agency.

"The commission's publishing of a ruling exonerating Prime Minister Andrew Holness two days after the February 14 tabling of a report referring him for a corruption probe sparked a firestorm about procedure, law, and conspiracy.

" 'I have carried out my job obligations faithfully and diligently, and above all, with scrupulous integrity. I have done nothing wrong,' Christie said in a Gleaner interview Sunday.

" 'I have faithfully complied with the instructions and directives of the chairman and commissioners, to whom I report, inclusive of instructions that are associated with the issues that are now in the public domain,' the anti-corruption campaigner added.

Government senators have called for the resignation of Christie or that the commissioners ask him to quit. 'The unjust treatment of the recently tabled Integrity Commission report and belated publication of the related ruling has been presided over by its executive director,' the senators said in a statement issued last Friday."

These responses smack of infallibility, especially when matched against the fact that the Integrity Commission's director of investigations signed his report on October 4, 2022, but it was only tabled in Parliament, on February 14, 2023. Twenty-one sittings of the Parliament elapsed between these mentioned dates. Why did the Integrity Commission wait until February 2023 to table the report?

But there is even a more serious matter which must not escape the sanitising heat of sunlight. Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding last Sunday placed a powerful searchlight on the mentioned questions and related matters in an incisive piece in this newspaper.

Golding noted, among other things: "The most egregious aspect, however, is that long before the report of the director of investigations was tabled in Parliament detailing allegations against the prime minister and advising that the matter had been referred to the director of corruption prosecution, the commission had in its possession the ruling of the director of corruption prosecution that there was no basis for proffering any charges against the prime minister. Why was the report of that ruling not submitted to Parliament until after the original report was tabled and publicised?"

Accountability for all

Up to the time of writing the Integrity Commission had not provided an answer to this critical question. Contrary to what some at the commission might believe, they are not our lords and masters; they are our servants. Folks are not demanding servitude. We are demanding service comparable to international best practices.

As I see it, the people of this country have not just a responsibility, we have a duty to scrutinise the actions of the Integrity Commission. I see some people on social media and elsewhere reprimanding others for questioning the conduct of the Integrity Commission in the manner of "How dare you?" They reason that the commission is staffed by individuals of the highest intellectual and moral calibre. I think such people have totally missed the point. The legitimate questions which the public has a duty to ask should not be minimised and/or held hostage by discussions about the academic attainment, high standards of morality, or outstanding contribution to public service of the members of the Integrity Commission, as some have been attempting to do.

Some have foolishly fallen into a trap of believing that the value and importance of some among us is lodged in the inner core of the stratosphere. And there are dozens who have succumbed to the notion that some people are so scholarly that their every utterance and pronouncement warrants unquestioning deference. These are rotten vestiges of slavery and colonialism, which I believe must be rejected.

Intellectual contortionists will doubtless try and conflate this point and bellow that I am advocating disrespect as a default position, especially for individuals in leadership. My point is simple. Respect must be grounded in critical appraisal, not historical ascription of classist attributions. Up to the time of writing, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), National Integrity Action (NIA), Jamaica Accountability Metre Portal (JAMP), Jamaica Chambers of Commerce (JCC), Generation 2000 (G2K), the Jamaica Bar Association (JAMBAR), the Government of Jamaica Senators, Young Jamaica, hundreds on social media, and significant sections of traditional media had called on the Integrity Commission to provide specific answers to questions which are noted here. Some of the mentioned organisations have called for "heads to roll", while others have raised the serious matter of the damage which has been done to the standing of the commission. Thousands of citizens' concerns cannot be dismissed with "I did nothing wrong" braggadocio.

Deficient statement

On the point of boastfulness, the Integrity Commission's 12-point statement of February 17, 2023 did not escape my notice. To me, it succeeded in raising more questions than it provided answers. As I see it, the explanations it delivered to support its actions were quite deficient with respect to the questions which are being asked in the public domain.

I agree with Golding that, "The explanation offered by the commission that Section 53(3) of the Integrity Commission Act precluded it from submitting the findings of the director of corruption prosecution is, to put it bluntly, hogwash.

"There is nothing in the Act that stipulates that a report emanating from the director of investigations must be first submitted to and tabled in Parliament before the findings of the director of corruption prosecution on the same matter can be submitted and tabled.

"It is the commission that determines the contents of any report it submits to Parliament; and not only could both have been submitted together in the same report, but it would have been the right thing to do. It would have prevented the public consternation that ensued and the reputational damage that has been done to both the prime minister and the country." (Jamaica Observer, February 19, 2023)

The Integrity Commission seems to view the so-called gag order is an almighty obstruction. Last week president of the Jamaican Bar Association (JAMBAR) Alexander Williams said on radio that the gag clause only refers to matters currently under probe. Williams said there was nothing that barred the commission from simultaneously tabling both the report outlining the allegations and the one highlighting there were no charges recommended.

Recall that in its February 17, 2023 statement the Integrity Commission said the publication of the ruling detailing that the prime minister has no case to answer could not be done simultaneously with the report accusing him of possible corruption breaches.

The reputational damage to Jamaica and Prime Minister Andrew Holness clearly could have been prevented. I believe it is going to take a long time to properly repair both. The awful consequences, I believe, will be borne by mostly ordinary Jamaicans.

On the matter of consequences, the Chinese word for crisis is also the word for opportunity. There is an opportunity here to prevent a similar catastrophe in the future. I noted in my column three Sundays ago that one of the critical functions of the State is to set measures in place to avoid catastrophes. I stand by that. Consequently, I believe legislative tightening is urgently needed — and the sooner the better.

Those who want to delude themselves with the notion that they can rely purely on the goodwill of mortals are welcome to it. I rather take my chances with best practices and legislation which establish solid guard rails which prevent some from going off on a frolic of their own, or worse. This is realpolitik.

I believe a society has to deal with things as they are, not with how they imagine them to be. Reality is this, where leaks are detected in the dam we must fix the apertures to prevented costly flooding.

Fresh air needed

In February 2020 this newspaper published an editorial entitled 'The return of Mr Greg Christie: hope and dread'. It noted, among other things: "Mr Christie could not resist the temptation to have people tried in the court of public opinion before they were tried in a court of law. He chose shaming before investigation, and that hurt his office grievously." Doubtless, some are saying, I told you so.

The Integrity Commission Jamaica needs to open its windows and let in some fresh air, if it is to be refreshed and replenished, I believe. I think the executive director of the Integrity Commission Greg Christie needs to come down from his high horse and apologise to the country for the poor handing of the public disclosures into the alleged conflict of interest allegation at the prime minister. If Christie cannot climb down he should either resign or be removed from his position.

1) Why did it take almost six years, from 2016 to 2023, for the investigation to be complete?

2) Why did it take from October 2022 till January 12, 2023 for the director of corruption prosecution to review the report and submit her ruling that no charges be brought?

3) Why did the Integrity Commission wait until February 14, 2023 to issue the detailed report to Parliament?

For the last week and half journalists, public commentators, and other well-thinking Jamaicans have been asking these critical questions? Silence for an extended period cannot be good for the health of the Integrity Commission. Prolonged silence by the commission will only fuel unproductive and preventable speculation, dangerous misinformation, and further distrust in our vital national institutions.

Christie's republication of material on Twitter in the midst of conspicuous omission of even a scintilla of reference to the fact of the exoneration of Prime Minister Holness also raises many important questions which need immediate answers.

Garfield Higgins is an educator, journalist and a senior advisor to the minister of education & youth. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

Greg Christie, executive director, Integrity Commission
Prime Minister Andrew Holness
Garfield Higgins

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