HOW could it have happened? Inadvertency or malice aforethought?
The Integrity Commission is mandated to police and pronounce on the conduct of public officials and, where necessary, to initiate prosecution of offences of corruption. Its mandate demands that it act with absolute probity and impartiality.
Suggestions of impropriety on the part of any public official is a serious matter. Suggestions of impropriety on the part of the head of the country's government is a most serious matter because of the enormous power that our constitution places in his hands.
When I learned of the Integrity Commission's report which was tabled in Parliament last Tuesday and noted that it had to do with matters that occurred more than a decade ago, the first question that came to my mind was where was this investigation all these years? If it takes the commission 16 years to initiate an investigation and report on it, what useful purpose does it serve?
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 prosecutions, the commission had in its possession the ruling of the director of corruption prosecutions 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?
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.
The report of the director of investigations tabled on February 14 instantly grew more legs than a centipede. The international media grabbed the story. The prime minister of Jamaica had been found by an "independent" integrity body to be involved in corruption. The subsequent report of the ruling of the director of corruption prosecutions that there is no case to be laid against the prime minister is unlikely to enjoy the same coverage or penetration. The damage not just to the prime minister but to the country cannot yet be measured.
The mishandling of this matter has done serious — possibly irreparable — damage to the public confidence that the Integrity Commission must command. The tweeting activities of the Executive Director Mr Greg Christie, someone for whom I have had great respect, in relation to this matter raises discomforting questions.
Immediately after the initial report the Opposition called on the prime minister to, at least, take a leave of absence until a decision had been made by the director of corruption prosecutions. Such an action would have had far-reaching implications for the management of the country's affairs. Opposition Leader Mark Golding, although he was only five years old at the time, would do well to reflect on Michael Manley's faux pax in 1970 when he convened a press conference and levelled accusations of corruption against the then Minister of Agriculture John Gyles, in relation to a contract he was alleged to have signed with a British firm.
In what became known as the Cicale scandal, Manley produced a document that had been given to him purporting to be a copy of a government contract bearing Gyles' signature. Gyles denied ever signing such a contract and the signature purporting to be his was subsequently proved by handwriting experts to have been forged. Manley was subsequently censored in Parliament and defended himself by saying that he had acted on the basis of information that he sincerely believed to be accurate, and in what he thought was the best interest of the country.
We cannot afford to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The Integrity Commission was established in its original form by Michael Manley in 1972 — more than 50 years ago. Its mandate and authority have been significantly enlarged since then. As much as it is a source of irritation to some public officials, it is a critical part of our democracy and the practise of good governance. In this particular case it has been found wanting; it has messed up. Corrective action is necessary if its important purpose is to be preserved.
— Bruce Golding served as Jamaica's eighth prime minister from September 11, 2007 to October 23, 2011.