THE verbal combat between the Integrity Commission and the Government intensified on Tuesday with the body issuing a stinging rebuke of Cabinet minister Marlene Malahoo Forte's comments made in relation to the leadership code of conduct it has asked Government and Opposition legislators to sign.
At the same time, the commission scolded Information Minister Robert Morgan for comments on the issue, slammed Prime Minister Andrew Holness for failure so far to sign the code, and declared that it will not recoil from its duty to the public.
"The commission will not be frightened or intimidated to act in any way that is contrary to the public interest. Nor will it subject itself to the undue influence or desires of any person, official, or authority while discharging its lawful functions under the law," the commission said in a lengthy news release.
It noted that Malahoo Forte, the minister of legal and constitutional affairs, during the deliberations of the joint select committee of Parliament reviewing the Integrity Commission Act on June 1, accused the commission of publicising in the media the individuals who have signed the code and those who haven't.
"Instead of requesting a formal meeting with either the Cabinet or the parliamentary body, they have gone all over the place with a shaming approach â€¦ I believe the [desired] approach is to train people and help them to comply. If you set a code with a standard that reflects what you should be measured by, then all steps should be taken, individually and collectively, for compliance," Malahoo Forte said at the meeting.
However, the commission noted that the idea of the leadership code and subsequent training followed a courtesy call made by its Executive Director Greg Christie on Prime Minister Holness on June 9, 2020.
"At the meeting, the prime minister invited the executive director to speak with his Cabinet members on the issue of corruption. The commission, thereafter, under the leadership of its executive director, developed and administered the specialised workshops to the Cabinet and the shadow Cabinet," the commission said.
"The preamble to the commission's code of conduct expressly states that it is predicated on the fact that special training has been administered, by the commission, to the members of the Cabinet and to the members of the shadow cabinet. This was done between November 9, 2020 and February 15, 2021, and between November 15, 2021 and May 30, 2022, respectively. The training took the form of 12 specialised 'Anti-Corruption and Good Governance Workshops', that were developed by the commission for that specific purpose," the entity stated.
The commission expressed disappointment that Morgan had also made a number of public remarks concerning the code of conduct, saying that the comments may have confused the public.
"This is also surprising since the Jamaica Information Service, which falls under his portfolio, has, from the very outset, benefited directly from extensive clarifications from the commission regarding the code," the commission said.
In response, Morgan told the Jamaica Observer that his comments on the issue came about, not by his doing, but by a question that was asked of him at a post-Cabinet press briefing by a journalist.
"The journalist asked why is it that I and other members of the Cabinet have not signed the code of conduct. I stated to the journalist that I do not know of which code they speak, as no code has been presented to me," Morgan said on Tuesday afternoon.
He pointed to the commission's statement about the special training and said, "I was not a Cabinet minister on November 9, 2020 so I was not party or invited to any training session by the Integrity Commission."
"I have said it on many occasions that I have no fundamental opposition to the Integrity Commission doing its job. I do not have the power to frighten the commission. The only power I have is to speak about fairness and equity, and I humbly suggest to the Integrity Commission that their approach to this code of conduct is wrong, because they are asking me to sign a document that they have never presented to me, and the mere fact of me not signing a document results in them putting my name in a press release with very incendiary words, which I consider to be highly inappropriate," Morgan said.
In its release, the commission said that, despite the passage of more than six months, and the fact that the training upon which the code was predicated was initiated by Holness, he is yet to respond to the commission's letter to him of November 15, 2022.
"Further, neither he nor any member of the Cabinet of the Government of Jamaica has, to date, signed the code," the commission said, adding that on November 15, 2022 it wrote a letter to Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding requesting that they commit to the code on their own behalf, and on behalf of the members of the Cabinet and shadow cabinet.
"The Opposition leader was the first public official to sign and commit to the commission's leadership code of conduct. He did so on January 9, 2023. However, rather than sign on behalf of the members of his shadow cabinet, he wrote to the commission to seek its authorisation for each of them to sign the code in their own right. The commission granted its approval to the request. Subsequently, 10 other members of the shadow cabinet have since formally signed the code," the commission said.
It also said it was unfortunate that Malahoo Forte "has taken issue with the commission, while remaining silent on the failure" on the part of the prime minister and Cabinet members, including herself, to sign the code.
"She appears to be bothered by the fact that the commission has been advising the public of the public officials who have signed the code. The commission considers itself to be serving the public interest by bringing transparency to a matter which it believes is of significant public interest. It will, therefore, continue to do as it has done and will not be influenced in this regard by anyone," the commission stated.
It also reiterated that, in the interest of public transparency, it will continue to publish the names and particulars of every public official who subscribes to its leadership code of conduct and will maintain a permanent record of those particulars on its website.