Why only us?
MPs unhappy with Integrity Commission's request for them to declare interests
MALAHOO FORTE... cautioned against focusing so much on the political directorate that other important offices are left "in the dark"

Parliamentarians have registered strong displeasure with the level of pressure being placed on the political directorate by the Integrity Commission as it seeks to expand requirements for annual declarations to include details of any Government contracts which Members of Parliament (MPs) are awarded.

The commission also wants the Integrity Commission Act to be amended to require parliamentarians to declare their interests in trade or professional organisations, trustee arrangements, directorships or beneficial interest in corporate bodies and Government boards, and other substantial interests which may cause a conflict of interest.

Addressing a meeting of the parliamentary oversight committee reviewing the law on Wednesday, Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte cautioned against focusing so much on the political directorate that other important offices are left "in the dark".

Both Government and Opposition members on the committee argued against the proposal, pointing out that if MPs are asked for this information, then it should apply across the public sector.

"My concern is that with the exception of the leader of the Opposition and the prime minister — for whom publications are made of the summary of their statutory declaration — everything else in the law applies to everyone equally. You are now singling out parliamentarians that they must be required to make submissions of a different category of interest. Why this category and not all of the branches of Government?" Malahoo Forte argued.

"What we are asking for here is nothing untoward. In other jurisdictions this information is provided for public access," head of the commission Gregg Christie pointed out. He noted that in a number of Commonwealth jurisdictions, in addition to making a statutory declaration politicians are required to disclose these registrable interests, which are then placed in a register and made available for public scrutiny.

"The same regime obtains in the United Kingdom. We aren't asking for this information to be placed in a public document, but to be placed in a statutory declaration," Christie explained.

Opposition Senator Peter Bunting noted that declarations of the beneficial interests of civil servants who approve large contracts would be more useful in assisting corruption investigations.

"Parliamentarians have influence but have less direct connection than the operating officers of ministries, departments and agencies," he said.

Malahoo Forte argued that while the country's status on the global Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is important, close attention should also be paid to the methodology used by Transparency International in arriving at the rating.

"There is no divergence in view about the higher standard to which those who exercise certain functions should be held, but the Government is not limited to the political directorate. We go down the wrong path in examining Government without looking at who discharges what functions and who is responsible for what," she said.

In its 2021 CPI, Transparency International says Jamaica slipped one spot in the country rankings, from 69 out of 180 countries in 2020, to 70 in 2021. Jamaica has a CPI score of 44 out of 100, where zero means 'highly corrupt', and 100 'very clean'.

The Integrity Commission pointed out in its 2020-2022 annual report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday that in the 20 years that Transparency International has been ranking Jamaica, the country has averaged a CPI of only 37.8 out of 100. Scores below 50 mean that the country has a serious corruption problem.

The legal affairs minister said it is unhelpful in the monitoring of corruption for statements that are contrary to the facts, to be made by those in high places, pointing out that since the Government of Jamaica adopted its current anti-corruption model for the public service, the international community — which recommended the model — has had reason to re-examine the framework, and question whether it is the most effective model.

"I do not take kindly to any impression being given that some of us here are merely paying lip service to the work that we have committed ourselves to do. It is my hope that the process that were going through now would be put forward as a demonstration of our commitment," she said.

The MPs cautioned against adopting regimes from other jurisdictions, without consideration for the local context, and the level of burden they would impose on parliamentarians who are already under pressure to abide by the current requirements for declarations.

The commission submitted a raft of recommendations drawn from its four annual reports, including the just-tabled 2021-2022 annual report.

Alphea Saunders

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