The Integrity Commission's lapse in judgement?

Lapses in judgement are commonplace in everyday life. I have fallen victim to this mental malady. So too have you, the reader. We all know someone who has suffered temporary or momentary loss of concentration leading to a mistake. Most times the damage done is not severe. With a kiss of the teeth, shrug of the shoulder, or shake of the head, we dismiss it as a faux pas. We move on.

A lapse in judgement by civil servants and government officials in carrying out their duties can have unintended, unimaginable, and dire consequences. The following story is a case in point.

James Comey was appointed head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by former US President Barack Obama. During his tenure he was responsible for overseeing the Hillary Clinton e-mail controversy, made worse by the fact that this had become a hot political issue during her 2016 run for the presidency.

Clinton was leading in the polls when less than two weeks before the election Comey decided to go public with his decision to reopen the investigation into the e-mail controversy. This gave Clinton's political opponent and nemesis Donald Trump the weapon to mortally wound her reputation and pull off an improbable victory, thereby denying her a place in history as the first female to hold the presidency.

Democrats were and continue to be incensed over Comey's actions. Some will never be convinced that Comey, a lifelong Republican, was not guilty of political bias or malice aforethought. To me, without any political interest one way or the other, it was a classic case of a lapse in judgement.

The Clinton – Comey saga bears some resemblance to the present controversy in which the Integrity Commission, the country's main corruption watchdog, is embroiled. At the centre of the kerfuffle is the timing of the commission's tabling in Parliament of a report by its director of investigations concerning award of contracts to a connected party of Prime Minister Andrew Holness 16 years earlier when he served as minister of education.

The report detailing allegations against the prime minister advised that the matter had been referred to the director of corruption prosecution for suspected conflict of interest. Tabling of the troubling report in Parliament took place even though at the time of its tabling it was known that the director of corruption prosecution had already determined there was not enough evidence on which to bring charges.

There has been outcry from among members of the governing party as well as influential private sector and other bodies. Public consensus is leaning towards the view that failure to table the report of the director of investigation and the ruling of the director of corruption prosecution at the same time led to speculation of guilt, which had the effect of reputational damage to the Office of the Prime Minister and the country.

The protestation of the chairman and executive director of the Integrity Commission that there were no procedural missteps have not allayed the doubts in some quarters of possible ulterior motives as well as general confusion concerning fairness and probity. What is not in doubt is the fact that this sordid mess could have been avoided had there not been a lapse in judgement concerning timing of the release of both reports. Rather than stubbornly sticking to the procedural argument it would have been better for the relevant authorities to admit to a human failing when discretion could have been applied.

Before leaving the subject there are two points worth considering. The first is a prevailing view, a psychosis of sort, evident among some members of the security forces, and we see it here with the Integrity Commission, that their hard work in exposing wrongdoers will be undone by a prosecutorial system that has a poor track record of bringing those suspected of wrongdoing to book. Going back to Greg Christie's tenure as contractor general from 2005 to 2012, the keen observer would have noticed a creeping tendency to "name and shame them" as a method of discouraging corruption. The overexuberance maybe admirable, but the result is akin to one playing the role of judge and jury.

The second point arises from Holness's initial statement that the matter would be referred to his lawyers. Given the cloud surrounding his seriousness about fighting corruption, going down this road would be like throwing a match into a lake of kerosene. My advice to the prime minister is that if he feels heads should roll because of what he deems to be a wilful and malicious act, he should await a less contentious opportunity to take out the chopping block.

I am not as anxious as some are to call for a change to the aspect of the legislation addressing the timing of submissions by the investigative and prosecutorial arms of the commission to avoid a repeat of the situation causing the prime minister's discomfiture. After all, the common man charged with a crime is presumed innocent, given his day in court, and even if exonerated must live the rest of his life with the stain of having been charged with a crime. What's the difference?

The Jamaica Council of Churches' call for the nation to guard against diminution in the role of the Integrity Commission should be heeded.

Dr Henley Morgan is founder and executive chairman of the Trench Town-based Social Enterprise, Agency for Inner-city Renewal and author of My Trench Town Journey - Lessons in Social Entrepreneurship and Community Transformation for Policy Makers, Development Leaders, and Practitioners. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or

Dr Henley Morgan

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