Parliamentarians double down on 'gag clause' for Integrity Commission
HAYE...not suggesting that the Integrity Commission be allowed to release information on a whim (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

The Financial Investigation Division (FID) has joined the call for amendments to the "gag clause" in the Integrity Commission Act to allow the commission to speak on certain investigations prior to reports going to Parliament.

In a submission to the commission's oversight committee, which has been reviewing the Act since 2020, as is provided for in law, the FID said the work of agencies of Government in the fight against corruption was being hamstrung by the need to seek ministerial approval before they can exchange information on investigations.The FID said where the Integrity Commission needs to exchange information with designated competent authorities or foreign entities for legitimate investigations, it should not be hindered, and that the Act needs to be amended to remove this stumbling block in the fight against corruption. The Ccommission, in its third annual report for 2020/21, had recommended that the gag clause (section 53) of the Act be amended to allow it to speak at certain stages of an investigation. The oversight committee and the Gregg Christie-headed commission have been engaged in a tug of war for more than a year over this clause.

On Wednesday, head of the FID Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Selvin Haye stressed that the division was not suggesting that the Integrity Commission be allowed to release information on a whim.

"I'm very in tune with the fact that an investigation that surrounds sensitive and confidential matters has to be handled very responsibly. What I'm supporting is that [when] a request is made to the commission by a responsible entity to say whether or not an investigation is being done, the commission can say to that entity yes, an investigation has commenced and will therefore be able to discuss this further when the investigation is completed, and we have reported to Parliament.

"There are mechanisms that can be used to responsibly release and update," argued ACP Haye as he pointed to the stumbling block presented by the need for ministerial approval by Government agencies that work together on money laundering matters, for example.He also argued that Jamaica's unfavourable position on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index could be concretised if institutions such as the Integrity Commission are not given the latitude to exchange information, in specified circumstances.

But Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Marlene Malahoo Forte expressed apprehension that comments from critical institutions could undermine processes and confidence in those institutions.

"Sometimes the impression is given that everyone in the political directorate is either a crook or a criminal or is incompetent. A constitutional question which is arising and which may have to be put out there, is for the proper functioning of the democracy, the interplay between the elected and unelected on matters of accountability," argued Malahoo Forte.

She said she acknowledged that part of the concern may be that reports are not routinely debated by Parliament, but, "there are many things that I find mind-boggling, and the more I hear comments being made in the public from important office holders and assess how they impact confidence in offices of State and Government is the more I wonder about how do we properly provide for what we say we are committed to do. I am not persuaded that everything needs to be commented on in the public space at a particular stage". Stressing the Government's commitment to anti-corruption measures, notwithstanding Jamaica's corruption perception standing, Malahoo Forte argued that there is a subliminal message in the push for the removal of the clause 53, that Parliament cannot be trusted to manage the information presented to it by the commission. "At the heart of it is outright distrust. I'm still struggling to understand how the restriction until the tabling impedes the work of the commission," the legal and constitutional affairs minister said. At the same time, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck said he would defend the clause until he is otherwise convinced.

"Once an investigation begins formally, then report it to Parliament— at least Parliament would know that an investigation has started and that a report will come, and the result of that investigation will be known to Parliament and to the country," stressed Chuck as he insisted that the clause does not prevent disclosure, but instead restricts that disclosure to Parliament.

The commission's 2021-2022 annual report was tabled in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

CHUCK...still struggling to understand how the restriction until the tabling in Parliament impedes the work of the Integrity Commission (Photo: Gregory Bennett)
MALAHOO FORTE...sometimes the impression is given that everyone in the political directorate is either a crook or a criminal or is incompetent.
Alphea Saunders

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