'Right decision'
House Speaker commended for stepping aside
DALRYMPLE-PHILIBERT... resigned with immediate effect

In the space of half an hour on Thursday afternoon, mounting criticism transformed into approval after Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert bowed to public pressure by tendering her resignation as Speaker of the House of Representatives and Member of Parliament (MP).

But even as public commentators said the embattled politician did the honourable thing, they continued to scold Dalrymple-Philibert for the manner in which she handled the tabling in Parliament of an Integrity Commission (IC) report containing a ruling that she be slapped with eight charges in relation to her statutory declarations.

"I think she has done the right thing in the circumstances. The way that that thing was handled in Parliament was just not the right way to do it," Robert Stephens, co-chairman of Advocates Network Jamaica, said.

"The fact is that, whether MPs or public servants, or people in high places in the private sector…are accused of something and are involved as a major player in something, you recuse yourself and you allow other people to deal with it, and that would have been fine. But instead, she basically was very arrogant, and arrogance is not what we need in this country right now. What we need are people with some level of humility and understanding," he said.

DALRYMPLE-PHILIBERT... resigned with immediate effect

Eminent church leader Reverend Dr Peter Garth agreed that Dalrymple-Philibert made the right decision to step down, saying that she was in a very awkward position.

"If she did not resign, the prime minister himself would have been in a very precarious position," Rev Garth told the Jamaica Observer.

Rev Garth, who is immediate past president of the Jamaica Evangelical Alliance, argued that it was "just untenable" for Dalrymple-Philibert to have continued in her capacity as House Speaker and he believes that "from day one, she should have stepped aside".

"I think all well-thinking Jamaicans are happy about the decision, because perception can so often be seen as more real than reality," he added.

He also argued that Dalrymple-Philibert should not have tabled the IC report in Parliament herself.

"She should have stepped aside and allowed somebody else to speak, and I think it sent a wrong message to the country. In fact, when the leader of the Opposition was not allowed to speak it sent a signal that was not good," he said.

Garth's reference was to Tuesday's sitting of the House when Dalrymple-Philibert tabled the report, saying that she decided to do so "to ensure that there is no accusation of conflict of interest" and to prove that she had "absolutely nothing to hide".

She had also refused to entertain a question from Opposition Leader Mark Golding on the issue, resulting in Golding and the other members of the Opposition walking out of the Chamber.

Dalrymple-Philibert has been subjected to public scrutiny since the IC investigation report stated that she had failed to declare in her statutory filings a motor vehicle she had purchased through a concession afforded to legislators.

The commission's director of corruption prosecution, Keisha Prince-Kameka, ruled that Dalrymple-Philibert be charged with four counts of making a false statement in breach of the Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act, 1973 in her statutory declaration for the periods ending December 31, 2015, February 25, 2016, December 31, 2016, and December 31, 2017; and four counts of breaching the Integrity Commission Act, 2017 for making a false statement for the periods ending December 31, 2018, December 31, 2019, September 3, 2020, and December 31, 2020.

Additionally, the commission's director of investigation, Kevon Stephenson, recommended that the report be referred to the prime minister "for him to take such disciplinary and/or administrative actions which both recognises the seriousness of Mrs Dalrymple-Philibert's conduct" and to deter recurrence.

Further, Stephenson said he found that Dalrymple-Philibert had breached Section 36 of the Customs Act and recommended that his report be referred to the commissioner of customs to recover the duties paid on the vehicle and to apply "such penalties as the commissioner may deem to be appropriate".

Stephenson also recommended that the report be referred to the financial secretary in order to recover allowances paid to the House Speaker in relation to the vehicle.

However, shortly after the report was tabled, Dalrymple-Philibert issued a statement explaining that she had forgotten to include the motor vehicle, which was primarily used by her sister, in her declarations.

She said she was surprised at the conclusion reached by the commission, given that she has "always filed [her] statutory declarations and have done so in a timely and transparent manner".

But the revelation prompted calls from several quarters for Dalrymple-Philibert to resign. On Wednesday, National Integrity Action, Jamaican Accountability Portal, and the Advocates Network, in a joint statement, demanded that she resign immediately from her position as Speaker. According to the entities, "it is undemocratic for the Speaker to preside over the hearing relating to a report about her conduct".

On Thursday, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and the Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC) added the voices to the strong calls for Dalrymple-Philibert to step down.

"This is the right course of action, given the circumstances. We continue to be committed to transparency and would like to stress that this will be our stance regarding any named public official who has been charged," said the PSOJ.

The group — which represents more than 300 companies, associations and individuals — said while it notes the ongoing discussions surrounding the investigations and reports by the IC, there is an absolute necessity for good governance practices to be upheld by all members of Jamaica's political directorate, irrespective of their party affiliation or standing.

Equally, the JCC said that, in the interest of natural justice, the Speaker should be recused from further deliberations of the House until the cloud of suspicion which presently hangs over her head has been fully and fairly addressed.

"We continue to hold firmly to the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty and adjure the nation to treat this matter and the Speaker with dignity and respect," added the JCC.

However, in a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, Dalrymple-Philibert said she read the Integrity Commission's report over the past two days and has "taken note of the public sentiments on this issue".

"Nowhere in the entire report has the Integrity Commission raised any question or concern about the source of funding of the vehicle, which was purchased through a loan from Sagicor Bank. The vehicle was never sold or transferred to anyone in the past seven years, although there was nothing preventing me from doing so after the three-year mandatory restriction was lifted," she said.

"I maintain to this day that the omission of the vehicle was a genuine oversight on my part. There would have been no allegations against my name had I included the vehicle in my declaration; therefore, I had no motive to have deliberately omitted it," she said.

Dalrymple-Philibert further noted that since the IC has decided to charge her criminally for an omission, she has considered the damage this has done to her reputation and has decided to "tender my resignation, both as the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Member of Parliament for Trelawny Southern with immediate effect".

"What has happened to me could have happened to any other Member of the Parliament, public servant, or civil servant. As a woman maintaining a family and as a Member of Parliament, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and managing partner of a law firm, the toll that it has taken on me is immense," she said.

"My decision is entirely voluntary, and not at the request of anyone. I also wish to state and emphasise that I remain a loyal and committed member and supporter of the Jamaica Labour Party, and more particularly to the Andrew Holness Administration. I will continue to render assistance in whatever way I can and I will always support my party," she said.

"I look forward to the trial of the matter, for which the Integrity Commission has ruled that I be charged, to be concluded in a court of law rather than a court of public opinion," she said, while reiterating that she has nothing to hide and that she did not knowingly mislead the Integrity Commission. "It was a genuine oversight."

BY ALECIA SMITH Senior staff reporter smitha@jamaicaobserver.com

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