Oversight body pushes for removal of gag clause
CHRISTIE... head of the IntegrityCommisison

THE Integrity Commission (IC) says it is not backing down from its position that the gag clause in the legislation which governs its operations be removed to allow it to announce and comment on ongoing investigations.

Arguing that a gag clause is not imposed on other law enforcement agencies in Jamaica, the Greg Christie-led commission said, “the gag should be cause for significant public alarm and concern”, as it is detrimental to the public interest and the public good.“Considering that Jamaica is perceived to be highly corrupt, the 'gag' only serves to further undermine public confidence and trust in the country's institutions and leaders. Corruption loathes transparency. It thrives in the dark. The 'gag', because it suppresses information, is, therefore, self-defeating,” the commissioners argued in a position statement to the Integrity Commission parliamentary oversight committee yesterday.

Pointing to other jurisdictions where similar agencies have the discretionary power to make public announcements about their investigations, the commission said this is an indication that blanket statutory gags are unusual and raise questions.“Having regard to all of the foregoing, the Integrity Commission respectfully calls upon the Parliament of Jamaica to repeal Section 53 (3) of the Integrity Commission Act, and to reserve to the Integrity Commission the discretionary authority to make statements about its investigations as it sees fit,” the commissioners insisted.Section 53 (3) forbids the commission from making any public statement on matters under investigation until a report is tabled in Parliament.The commission recommended in its three annual reports between 2018 and 2021 that the commissioners be allowed to report in general terms the stage of an investigation, and that it was widely believed that the present provision is inconsistent with the objective of transparency in its functions.“The recommended authority of the Integrity Commission to make an announcement of the commencement of its investigations, or to otherwise make guarded comments concerning its investigations, is something that is intended for the benefit of the public, primarily to inform it of matters that are under consideration by the Integrity Commission,” the commission explained.It argued against previous suggestions by the committee's Government members that instead of announcing investigations, a special report should be submitted to Parliament on the state of an investigation: “If the mischief that the 'gag' is seeking to cure is to prevent the tarnishing of the reputations of public officials by prohibiting the commission from making a public announcement of its investigations, then how is that mischief cured when the IC is allowed to make the same public announcement via the tabling of a report in Parliament? Is not the presumed offending public announcement made in either case.”The commissioners dismissed as misleading, the idea that the announcement of an investigation could tarnish someone's reputation, questioning how announcing a probe, which emanated from a third party bringing a matter to the commissions' attention could injure the reputation of the concerned individual.

“What good purpose is served by hiding from the public the fact that the IC has commenced an investigation into said allegations? When a public request is made by a third party for an investigation to be conducted by the IC into a specific allegation which implicates someone, is the making of that request viewed as tarnishing the reputation of the person who is implicated by the allegation? If no, then why should a subsequent announcement by the IC that it has acceded to the request be regarded as tarnishing the person's reputation?” the commission insisted.There were no further discussions on the subject at the meeting, but Justice Minister Delroy Chuck had previously declared his opposition to the recommendation. He cautioned that this approach could be prejudicial and injurious.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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