KINGSTON, Jamaica - An influential church group has warned that the matter of the six unnamed politicians, who have been accused of illegal enrichment by the Integrity Commission (IC), “is a very serious matter that immediately suggests a potential crisis in governance”.
The Jamaica Umbrella Groups of Churches (JUGC), said it stands ready to support private conversations with the Government and Opposition to address the matter, “which we suggest does not have weeks for resolution, but a few days at best.”
The JUGC says Jamaica’s international reputation is at stake.
In a statement, JUGC’s chairman Dr Elaine McCarthy said the organisation’s position “is based on a clear deficit in honesty and integrity which places the nation in an unprecedented conundrum and requires urgent action”.
The six have allegedly breached Sections 14 (5) (a) of the Corruption Prevention Act. According to the provision, illicit enrichment happens where a public servant owns assets disproportionate to his lawful earnings; and upon being requested by the commission or any person duly authorised to investigate an allegation of corruption against him, to provide an explanation as to how he came by such assets, he fails to do so; or gives an explanation which is not considered to be satisfactory.
The church group is pointing to a “double standard” in the society where the names of some persons of interest, or individuals who have been arrested and or charged, have been revealed while the identities of others are concealed.
In particular, the JUGC is pointing the finger at the unnamed politicians who, having been flagged by the IC in July, have had their identities remain secret.
“This sends an unfortunate message of social inequity, unfairness and sector and class privilege, neither of which has any place in our society,” said McCarthy.
She argued that “If the IC’s reporting to the parliament that six individuals are being investigated is false, then the IC is compromised in a way that makes its commissioners’ position untenable. If the IC's report is true, then six of our parliamentarians have made their positions untenable by dishonesty and untruthful denial”.
On Tuesday it was revealed that Speaker of the House of Representatives, Marisa Dalrymple-Phillibert is being investigated in relation to her statutory declarations for the period 2015-2021 and specifically as it relates to the purchase of a motor vehicle in the amount of $6 million which was financed by a loan from Sagicor Bank.
She has insisted that the omission was a genuine oversight.
Meanwhile, the People’s National Party (PNP) has separated itself from the probe. The Opposition said that all of its parliamentarians, including its senators, have confirmed that they have not been approached by the IC in regard to the investigation.
The JUGC said those who are cabinet ministers would have likely made their positions untenable, and those who sit on parliamentary committees would have to be immediately replaced if the country is to be “committed to the highest standards of good governance”.
Despite the conundrum, McCarthy is insistent that the JUGC, as a matter of principle, is not in favour of a "name and shame approach" to investigations.
“The JUGC nonetheless recognises that there are peculiar and crucial issues in the IC matter which relate to transparent governance. We affirm that it is a deeply personal matter for a public official to be advised by the authorities that they are being investigated for illegal enrichment. However, in light of the public office they hold and its attendant demand for accountability, transparency and probity, the JUGC is of the view that the veil of privacy has to be a transparent veil,” McCarthy said.
The JUGC is urging the media and society at large to be careful about using the ‘court of public opinion’ to convict persons who have been charged or are under investigation.
Nonetheless, the church umbrella group argued that: “In the same way that the law requires fit and proper criteria to be applied to directors of government entities involved in financial supervision and engagement in sensitive strategic entities, there is an equal, if not superior demand for the parliament and the cabinet to ensure that there are no interim unfit issues that either potentially or actually compromise the standing or repute of these parts of our government”.
“So, while individuals have no legal requirement to disclose advice given to them by the IC of an investigation, a higher moral imperative and governance responsibility exists, which we assert, requires disclosure,” it added.
The JUGC also said it has “noted with deep concern that all of our parliamentary political representatives have reportedly denied being investigated by the IC”.