OUTRAGEOUS!
Integrity Commission chairman rejects accusations of malice; says lives of staff may be put at risk
PANTON... I am very surprised and disappointed at the source of some of these comments, as they are made by persons whom I thought knew better (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

Integrity Commission Chairman Justice Seymour Panton has rejected as baseless and outrageous suggestions that the anti-corruption body is motivated by malice or animosity.

Panton was dismissing accusations levelled at the commission as furious debate continues over the tabling in Parliament of its investigation report on the awarding of contracts to a company owned by a friend of Prime Minister Andrew Holness before a ruling stating that the head of Government should not be charged for procurement regulation breaches.

"I have noted with deep concern the content of some of the statements that have been made since the tabling of the report and the publication of the ruling in the Westcon matter. Many of the statements, in my opinion, demonstrate a misunderstanding of the Integrity Commission Act," Panton, a retired president of the Court of Appeal, said in a statement requested by the Jamaica Observer on Saturday.

"Suggestions of malice, ill will or evil motive on the part of the commission are rejected as being untrue, baseless and outrageous. I am very surprised and disappointed at the source of some of these comments, as they are made by persons whom I thought knew better," Justice Panton said.

"I think it is very irresponsible of those persons to be making such statements, and I fear that they are likely to inflame passions and, in Jamaica's violent climate, put the lives of the commissioners and the staff of the commission at risk," he said.

"I urge the staff of the commission to not allow themselves to be demotivated by the comments that are being made. I take this opportunity to urge calm on all fronts."

The commission has been taking heavy flak since it emerged last Thursday that it had tabled its report in Parliament on Tuesday stating that Holness had been referred to Director of Corruption Prosecution Keisha Prince-Kameka, despite her ruling, on January 12, 2023, that "no criminal charges can be laid" against him as additional material made available "failed to contradict or provide more evidence in support of the offences contemplated".

In its report, the Integrity Commission said its director of investigation had probed allegations that contracts had been awarded to Westcon Construction Limited between February 2007 and November 2009, and that there is a connection and/or relationship between Holness and the proprietors, Robert Garvin and Donovan Simpson.

At the time, Holness was the education minister and had admitted that Garvin was a friend. However, last week, after the report was tabled, he issued a statement strongly rejecting the findings of the investigation.

Last Thursday, the director of corruption prosecution's ruling was made public, prompting outrage and accusations of bias among Holness's supporters and expressions of concern from business, professional and civil society organisations, among them the Jamaica Civil Service Association, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, National Integrity Action, and the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC).

There was also consternation of damage to the country's image as initial revelation of the head of Government being referred for prosecution was picked up by large media entities overseas.

In a column on Page 13 of today's Sunday Observer, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding argues that "The damage, not just to the prime minister but to the country, cannot yet be measured."

On Friday, the Integrity Commission, in defence of its handling of the matter, rejected allegations of misstep.

The commissioners said there is no provision in the Integrity Commission Act mandating the tabling of a ruling by the director of corruption prosecution. However, they took the decision, "in the interest of full and early disclosure", that the ruling "ought to be communicated to Parliament, and the public advised".

They said that once the report into the Holness matter was sent to the director of corruption prosecution, as required by the law, she submitted her ruling to the commission.

"The commissioners, not having had the opportunity to read, understand and discuss it, took time to do so.

"The report was sent to Parliament and was tabled on February 14, 2023. Confirmation of the tabling was communicated to the commission on February 15, 2023. The commission's review of the ruling, having been finalised, instruction was given on the said February 15, 2023 for it to be published, and the publication was done on February 16, 2023," the commissioners explained.

They emphasised that publication of the ruling could not be done before or simultaneously with the report. "It had to await the tabling of the report. That is the law as crafted by Parliament," the commissioners said.

But that explanation has not been accepted by the JCC and Golding.

On Saturday, the JCC, in a news release, said the delay of more than 24 hours in the tabling of the investigation and ruling, "given the fallout that must have been foreseen and in fact has now been realised, appears unacceptable and, frankly, unforgivable".

At the same time, Golding argued that tabling both documents in Parliament at the same time would have been the right thing to do. "It would have prevented the public consternation that ensued and the reputational damage that has been done to both the prime minister and the country."

Meanwhile, Justice Panton assured Jamaicans that the commissioners and staff of the Integrity Commission are committed, patriotic Jamaicans.

"We have no agenda other than the discharge of the duties placed on us by the legislation. And it is still our intention to discharge our duties without fear or favour. Nothing should be done to hinder the work of the commission," he insisted.

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