Chuck points to risk of prejudice and injury
Justice minister opposes Integrity Commission's wish to comment publicly on ongoing investigationsFriday, October 15, 2021
BY ALPHEA SUMNER
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has cautioned against the Integrity Commission's recommendation that it be authorised to announce the start of, and comment on ongoing investigations, arguing that this approach could prove prejudicial and injurious.
The commission, in its 2020/21 annual report, has proposed amendments to the section of the Integrity Commission Act which addresses confidentiality.
During yesterday's meeting of the parliamentary oversight committee for the commission, Chuck questioned whether the confidentiality clause, as is, was in any way inhibiting the work of the commission, or if changing it would, in fact, enhance its operations.
“I know that this was well-considered by the joint select committee [which considered the Integrity Commission Act]… We felt that [any] comment just to say investigations have been initiated was highly prejudicial, and very often the prejudice caused to the persons is not removed even when the commission reports that there is nothing [untoward]. Because of this section, your commission presently has not been able to confirm or deny [matters being investigated]; the point is that some of them you may not be investigating, but people like to say they have sent the matter to the Integrity Commission just for the prejudicial value,” he argued.
He noted that the commission appeared to believe that it was bound to silence, but in fact, once a report has been submitted to Parliament the commission can declare that the allegation is being investigated.
“My recollection why this [provision] was put in was to stop frivolous allegations, but once you have reported to Parliament in the report, you can say [an] allegation is now being investigated,” Chuck said.
Executive Director Greg Christie disagreed. He said the commission was in fact seeking to make the change in the best interest of the country, and to enhance public confidence in the Government and its institutions, including the commission.
“People assume that we are comatose, we don't exist, we are taking a salary and we are doing nothing because they don't hear from us. The section says you can't speak about anything until it gets into Parliament, but the very Parliament that has written that law reserves to themselves the power to make allegations about corrupt conduct and ask the authorities to start investigations,” Christie stated.
He claimed that Jamaica is the third-most corrupt country in the English-speaking Caribbean, according to Transparency International, and that a significant reason for this is the undermining of public confidence in government institutions.
Chuck said Christie was not adhering to the Act, insisting that the commission can update Parliament monthly on the investigations that are being initiated, and that this would quell any doubt that the commission is fulfilling its mandate.
Member of Parliament for St Andrew South Eastern Julian Robinson said, with the low trust level in accountability on the part of public officials, the commission should have the freedom to say it has commenced an investigation, but he disagreed with commenting on an ongoing probe.
“I don't believe there should be any details of an investigation said publicly, but it's important to confirm or deny that you have started… the only other thing they should say publicly is to indicate a time frame for the completion, but nothing on the specifics of the investigation to be said in the public domain. It is important for public confidence that people know whether you have or not,” he said.
Deliberations will continue on November 18 on the 142-page report, which contains 16 recommendations, in addition to others arising from completed reports of investigations.