President of the Senate Tom Tavares-Finson has lined up behind the Speaker of the House of Representatives Marisa Dalrymple Philibert by not tabling two Integrity Commission (IC) reports that were expected to be tabled in the Senate on Friday.
One is a resubmitted investigation report concerning the allegations of conflict of interest, corruption and irregularities in relation to the acquisition of shares in FirstRock Capital Holdings Limited by the Airports Authority of Jamaica and the Norman Manley International Airport Limited; and the other is the annual report of the IC.
Dalrymple Philibert did not table the initial investigation report after the commission asked for it to be withdrawn and returned, which was done. The commission subsequently resubmitted the report to both Houses of Parliament.
However, the Senate president had tabled all of the commission's reports in the Upper House the previous Friday, including the original investigation report, at the time saying he had no legal basis to withhold IC reports.
At Friday's Senate sitting, however, Tavares-Finson received some flak from Opposition senators by not tabling the two reports, and voicing his agreement with Dalrymple Philibert, delaying their tabling until the legal advice of the attorney general is received.
Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, Peter Bunting, said he was perplexed with the president's stance, which is contradictory "especially since just last week you demonstrated by your action in tabling the Integrity Commission report on the Airport's Authority, that this is an independent chamber and you are an independent presiding officer.
"I am particularly disappointed, since presiding officers have no authority in law to impede the timely and seamless publication of these crucial reports. You are mere conduits through which reports are to be presented to all parliamentarians and this unfortunate behaviour will create the perception that politically unfavourable information, unfavourable to the Government… is being withheld from the public domain, inconsistent with the rule of law and the principle of transparent governance and inconsistent with the time honoured practice of both Houses that…Integrity Commission…are tabled at the earliest opportunity, and I think this is a dangerous departure from that convention and precedent and and I urge you, Mr President, to reconsider your position," he said.
Tavares-Finson responded to say he could not take into account Senator Bunting's perplexity or disappointment when arriving at his position.
"If it is that there is an ambiguity that needs clarification of the attorney general and that is the opinion of the Speaker of the House, one that I must tell you that I share, it would be irresponsible of me…," the Senate president began, before Bunting interjected to ask what was the ambiguity.
Tavares-Finson said this was explained at length by the Speaker of the Lower House.
At the sitting of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Dalrymple Philibert had pointed out the Integrity Commission Act had amended Section 73d of Parliament's standing orders which "clearly sets out how the report of the Integrity Commission should be treated."
According to her interpretation, Integrity Commission reports submitted to the Parliament will now first go to its Oversight Committee before being tabled.
"As the Speaker of this House, despite the previous practice for however long the practice has taken place, I feel compelled to abide by the laws and the standing orders," she said.
According to Standing Orders 73d, the oversight committee has the duty to review the annual report and any other report of the commission and to submit recommendations to both Houses of Parliament.
The section also states that the oversight committee is to convene and consider a report submitted under Section 34 of the IC law within 30 days of the submission of the report.
At Friday's Senate sitting, Tavares-Finson also sought to "disabuse the mind" of those who have framed the opinion that the IC reports are unfavourable to the Government and that is why the decision was taken to delay their tabling.
"One of the reports is the annual report of the Integrity Commission. It has nothing with favourability or otherwise to the Government; and the other one deals with a citizen who is not a Member of the Parliament or member of the Government. So I will await [the opinion of the attorney general] and that's my decision," he said.
Opposition Senator Lambert Brown also raised concern about the sudden change in how IC reports are normally tabled, which is traditionally done promptly. He also questioned when the opinion from the attorney general will be forthcoming.
He suggested that while awaiting the opinion of the attorney general as to whether the reports should be delayed or not, "it would be wise and better for the country to be prudent for us to submit to table the report so that the wish of the legislature in passing the Integrity Commission Act can be realised."
Tavares-Finson said his understanding is that the Chambers has indicated that the matter will be dealt with as one of high priority.
In a news release on Thursday, the Opposition warned that if the annual report of the IC sent to Parliament on June 29, 2023 is not tabled at Friday's Senate sitting and the next meeting of the Lower House, it will take action to protest against "this unacceptable undermining of good governance in our country".