Parliamentarians bash Integrity Commission
MP Robert Montague accuses agency of being biased and unfair
MONTAGUE... they have no credibility

THE majority of Government and Opposition legislators profusely beat their desks in solidarity with Member of Parliament for St Mary Western, Robert Montague, who, in a biting statement in Parliament Wednesday, accused the Integrity Commission of being biased and unfair in how it carries out its investigations and prepares subsequent reports.

Montague, who rose on the motion of adjournment of the House, questioned whether the Integrity Commission carries out its investigative functions in a manner that is fair, impartial, and thorough.

He was raising objections to the commission's Addendum to the Special Report of Investigation into Allegations Concerning Acts of Impropriety, Irregularity and Corruption in the Issuance of Firearm User Licences to 'Persons of Questionable Character' of the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA), which was tabled in the House on Wednesday. The original report was tabled in the House last year.

Montague was one of two former ministers of national security identified by the Integrity Commission as allowing people of questionable character to be issued with firearms licences. The other was the Opposition People's National Party's Peter Bunting.

Director of Investigations Kevon Stephenson stated that the addendum was in response to a press release and letter issued by Bunting expressing his refusal to sign the Integrity Commission's Leadership Commitment Code of Conduct on the basis that the Special Report omitted his representations regarding his reliance on recommendations made by the Firearm Review Board in his approval of two firearm user licence applications which were granted to individuals, who, according to the report, were of "questionable character". The addendum states that Bunting acted in accordance with the recommendations of the Firearm Review Board or more conservatively, in respect of the licence applications mentioned in the initial report.

Montague said he felt aggrieved that the Integrity Commission tabled an addendum to the report one year after it was published, despite his public statement in April 2022 that it was incomplete, but there "was a deafening silence".

"There was no review of the report then. But another public statement is made and the commission tables an addendum," he said.

"It's like there is one rule for some and another for others. This demonstrates bias, malice, and prejudice. This demonstrates that the investigative process of the Integrity Commission is unfair or biased and shows a lack of even-handedness as they act differently in certain circumstances, depending on which person is being investigated," he said, to rousing approval from House members, with one Government member shouting, "They have no credibility!"He stressed that, significantly, the report, in its recommendations, did not ask for any action to be taken against him in the discharge of his duty as minister of national security, no recommendation was made against him, and no referral to any institution for further action.

"None whatsoever, none. Why was that? Because I did nothing wrong and I broke no law. I as minister exercised my discretion in good faith and I acted at all times in accordance with the law and the duties cast on me as minister under the legislation. This would explain why no recommendation was made against me and there was no referral to any institution for further action," he said.

He further argued that the addendum is basically a review of the original report, and questioned how a judge, having passed a sentence, can turn around one year later and add to the verdict

"That's manifestly unfair. Furthermore, they did not review the whole period but only a section, and then slammed the door shut stating, in the addendum, that they will not disturb the rest of the report. No new information was sought or given. My quick read shows that they made the decision on information already in their possession. I provided information to them in my public statement, but I was not good enough to merit a review. This is clearly prejudice, bias, and malice," he stressed.

Montague called on the Oversight Committee of Parliament that oversees the Integrity Commission to be convened to review and consider whether the Integrity Commission acted fairly and in a principled manner. He said the review should not be confined to his case only but should cover generally how the Integrity Commission carries out its investigative actions, its administrative processes, and whether it is fair and impartial in the execution of its duties in this area.

"Further, I am asking that the joint select committee reviewing the Integrity Commission Act be asked to consider amending the legislation to give the ordinary citizen, the policeman or woman, the army officer, the civil servant, the permanent secretary, and the teacher a mechanism of review and remove the bar against taking the commission and its officers to court to seek redress," he said, adding, to exuberant desk banging, that every Jamaican is entitled to preserve his or her good name and reputation.

He stressed that a way must be found to have effective oversight of the Integrity Commission to make sure that it carries out its work in a manner that is fair but at the same time ensures that any oversight does not interfere with its independence so long as it carries out its statutory duties in a fair manner.

"Justice must not only be done, it must also appear to be done," he said, to which one member shouted, "Absolutely!" In the meantime, Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding said the addendum addresses an objection to the content of the report in omitting evidence that was given to the commission, "and they have corrected it" with the addendum, but did not see a need to amend the rest of the report, which largely affects Montague.

"So what I read… is that based on the material that they have seen, they don't see any reason to change their ruling on those matters. It is for the member to raise those issues with them in a convincing way if he feels aggrieved as was done by the person who they have responded to here," he said.

"I would just say generally, though, there's a trend I am seeing from that side to attack the Integrity Commission," he said to rousing objections from Government members.

BY ALECIA SMITH Senior staff reporter

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