CHAIRMAN of the Integrity Commission, retired justice Seymour Panton, says some public officials at the country's ports or those who have a hand in those operations may be facilitating the importation of illegal weapons and contributing to the high levels of violence and murders plaguing the island.
"Illegal guns are playing a significant role in the murders and serious bodily harm that are now commonplace. Our established ports of entry have been identified as venues through which significant numbers of these weapons of death pass, if the police reports are true, and I have no reason to doubt them. It means that there are persons working at some, if not all, of our ports who are facilitating this activity. This is corruption of the highest order. Some of these persons may be public officials. There may also be public officials who do not work at the ports but who have a hand in these matters," the chairman said in his remarks in the commission's 2021/2022 annual report which was laid before Parliament on Tuesday.
He urged informants to come forward and give information to the commission that could help identify and arrest these officials. "The nation is bleeding," Panton said.
Meanwhile, he said the commission would not let up on its repeated requests for changes to be made to sections 53 and 56 of the Integrity Commission Act, which prohibits it from communicating to the public even the mere fact of whether an investigation is underway into matters.
"The commission is firmly of the view that this is a serious impediment to good governance. Given the mandate of the commission, the right to communicate ought to be concomitant. It is clearly ridiculous that whereas the police, quite rightly, can say that they are investigating a criminal matter, the Integrity Commission is not allowed to say it is, or is not, investigating a matter that does not involve criminality. The commission will, therefore, continue to impress on Parliament the need to make the necessary amendments. And I wish at the same time to assure the public that every allegation or complaint made to the Commission is treated seriously and dealt with in confidence," the commission chairman said.
In his remarks, executive director Gregg Christie said Jamaica must accept that it has a serious corruption perception problem, as indicated by its 70th place ranking on Transparency International's corruption perception index (CPI), having slipped one spot below the 2020 ranking of 69.
Jamaica has a score of 44 out of 100, and has only averaged a 37.8 in the 20 years that Transparency International has been ranking the country out of 180 countries. Scores below 50 means a country has significant corruption problem, Christie pointed out.
"A persistently low CPI, such as Jamaica's, signals prevalent bribery, lack of punishment for corruption, and public institutions that do not respond to citizens' needs. Instructively, TI, in its January 2022 report, said this about Jamaica: 'Jamaica has been struggling for several years. It has made some progress. However, this has come alongside significant resistance to (anti-corruption) reforms from many politicians in the country'. The statement, coming from the world's leading and most respected anti-corruption watchdog, is concerning," Christie said.
He argued that if a country's anti-corruption laws are weak its anti-corruption agency will never be strong, or truly effective.
Christie butt heads with parliamentarians at Wednesday's meeting of the oversight committee which is reviewing the Integrity Commission Act, over the significance of the TI score, and a proposed expansion of declaration requirements for politicians.
— Alphea Sumner