The Integrity Commission has added an addendum to its 2017 special investigation report which concluded that former Minister of National Security Peter Bunting acted improperly in approving the award of gun licences to two men of “questionable character”.
At the same time, another former Minister of National Security, Robert Montague, who was similarly accused by the commission, launched a broadside against the oversight body in a statement in the House of Representatives on Wednesday in which he accused it of being biased against him.
In its addendum that was tabled in the Parliament on Wednesday, the commission has now concluded that Bunting did in fact act in accordance with the recommendations of the Firearm Review Board of the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA). It said Bunting acted in a way that was even “more conservative” than what was recommended by the Board in that he denied an application for one of the firearms that was approved by the Board.
The situation unfolded when in August 2017, the Office of the then Contractor General initiated an investigation into allegations concerning acts of impropriety and/or irregularity in the issuance of firearm user licences by the FLA to persons of questionable character for the period 2012 to 2018. The period overlapped with the time Bunting served as security minister in the People’s National Party administration and when Montague served as minister in the Jamaica Labour Party Government.
The matter concerning Bunting was tabled in Parliament on March 8, 2022. On May 3, this year, Bunting, the PNP’s shadow minister for national security, refused to sign the Commission’s Leadership Code of Conduct for parliamentarians accusing it of impugning his integrity.
He accused the commission of omitting his representations regarding his reliance on recommendations made by the Review Board, in his approval of two firearm user licence applications.
While seemingly not offering any new information, the commission said “based on the foregoing, the DI concludes that Mr Bunting acted in accordance with the recommendations of the Board or more conservatively, in respect of the referenced applications.”
The commission also found that allegations made against the two men were not proven in court and in one instance the person was not even charged with the alleged crime.
Bunting had insisted that elements of his responses were omitted in the commission’s published report.
Meanwhile, an incensed Montague read from a prepared statement on the Motion of Adjournment during Wednesday’s sitting of the House, accusing the Commission of bias.
In March 2022, Montague was accused by the commission of granting gun permits to persons with a criminal history. He has consistently denied any wrongdoing, insisting that at all times he acted in accordance with the law.
He questioned why the commission, in the absence of a new investigation, issued an addendum in relation to Bunting following a public statement by Bunting but has not done so after he similarly issued a statement that was carried in the Sunday edition of the two national newspapers.
Said Montague: “The Integrity Commission would have seen and read that public statement. There was a deafening silence then. There was no review of its report then. But another public statement is made and the commission tables an addendum. It’s like there is one rule for some and another for we country people”.
According to Montague, “this demonstrates bias, malice and prejudice. This demonstrates that the investigative process of the Integrity Commission is unfair or biased and shows a lack of evenhandedness as they act differently in certain circumstances depending on which person is being investigated”.
He also argued that the addendum is basically a review of the original report. “So tell me how can a judge, having passed a sentence, turn around one year later and add to his verdict?”
Montague argued further that the situation was manifestly unfair.
“Furthermore, they did not review the whole period, but only a section and then slammed the door shut stating, in the addendum, that they will not disturb the rest of the report,” he noted.
Continuing, he said: “My quick read shows they made the decision on information already in their possession. I provided information to them in my public statement but I was not good enough to merit a review. This is clearly prejudice, bias and malice. This treatment can happen to a teacher, a policeman or a civil servant. Where is the equity, fairness and accountability?”
Montague said he feels aggrieved at the development and has asked that the Oversight Committee of Parliament that oversees the Integrity Commission be convened to review and consider whether the Integrity Commission acted fairly and in a principled manner.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding, who also spoke on the motion of adjournment, lamented that he has seen a trend among Government lawmakers to seek to dismantle the powers of the Integrity Commission. He urged parliamentarians to be careful about the signal they send in their utterances against the commission.
Despite Golding’s caution, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck declared that members on the Government side had no confidence in the commission. He accused the commission of having no integrity.