MPs discuss parameters of Integrity Commission Oversight CommitteeWednesday, July 08, 2020
BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
GOVERNMENT and Opposition members of the Integrity Commission Oversight Committee, which held its first meeting yesterday, haggled over the approach that deliberations should take, and whether the committee should tread lightly when it comes to reports from the commission.
The first meeting of the parliamentary oversight committee comes on the heels of last week's tabling of three Integrity Commission reports in Parliament, inclusive of two further damning reports on the scandal-plagued State oil-refinery Petrojam, and the commission's second annual report.
Member of Parliament (MP) for Trelawny Southern, Marissa Dalrymple Phillibert said the committee should not be used as a platform to interrogate matters that have already been probed by the commission. “It is important for us to establish what is the scope of the committee, but it cannot be that we are being used as a body to investigate what has already been investigated by the Integrity Commission,” she cautioned.
Manchester Central MP Peter Bunting argued that there was no intent to use the committee to re-probe reports. “I don't think the Government members need to be fearful that we are trying to turn this into a PAC or a PAAC. This is not an investigative-type of committee; we are not going to call witnesses outside of the Integrity Commission itself. This is not an attempt to direct its investigations or prosecutions. In reviewing reports, of course we can ask questions around them or clarification or anything that might be necessary, [but] I don't think we have to overthink this one. What we want to hear is from the Integrity Commission itself,” he said.
Central Kingston MP Ronald Thwaites further argued that with public perception that the commission has not been attentive to matters that are perceived as important, the committee must be as penetrable as possible. “If it appears that we're being overly restrictive then we would be doing them a disservice and ourselves a dishonour. We have to be extremely mindful of the purpose of this enterprise,” he said.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck also advised against the committee seeking to delve into major reports. “I have no doubt that the annual reports of the commission is something that they should submit for us to review but I don't think that the committee should be inquiring into what they're investigating and secondly, when they make a report, that this committee is going to interrogate them on that report,” he said, pointing out that those reports should go to the respective parliamentary committees, such as the Public Accounts Committee. “I don't think if a voluminous report comes to us from the Integrity Commission that we are going to interrogate the commission on this report. I am not saying that we are not to ask one or two questions,” he said. He added that the commission would have the opportunity to speak not only on reports, but to air its concerns and constraints.
St Andrew Southern MP Mark Golding, meanwhile, was insistent that the committee had an obligation to review reports that have already been laid in Parliament, and that it is the approach that should be determined. “We would have to be guided as to appropriateness. For example, one would expect that coming out of a report there would be recommendations on what they [commission] would like to see happen in a public body. One of the things we would do is ensure that those recommendations are followed up and that those agencies are aware of them, and we could ask what those agencies are doing about it. I think that sort of thing could be appropriate to us as opposed to trying to delve behind the finding of fact that would have arisen in the reports,” he said.
Golding also suggested that instead of convening a separate committee to review the Integrity Commission Act, the oversight committee should be expanded for that purpose to include senators and to have those deliberations separately, but in tandem with the oversight committee discussions.
Minister Chuck said he supported the position, noting that Parliament should look to review the Act in tandem with the oversight discussions.
The committee was appointed in May to review and monitor the functions of the commission, report to Parliament on any matter related to the performance of the commission, review its annual reports and any other reports, and make recommendations. The committee is also mandated to assess the effectiveness of the commission and the appropriateness of its procedures, as well as consider reports submitted to Parliament under Section 34 of the Integrity Commission Act within 30 days of submission. “We are not here to simply review reports but we are here to assess the effectiveness of the entire commission — that's wide-ranging and very deep,” said Chuck.
Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte suggested that a basic starting point for the committee is to examine the establishment of the commission, its resources, the concerns raised by the commission, and whether it can adequately discharge its functions.