Integrity Commission's probe of top civil servants shocks public sector

THE Integrity Commission has turned its spotlight on some of Jamaica's most senior civil servants, some with decades of service, sending shock waves throughout the leadership of the island's public sector.

The Jamaica Observer has confirmed that Craig Beresford, director of information and complaints at the Integrity Commission, has written to at least eight permanent secretaries and a number of other senior civil servants indicating that an enquiry into their statutory declarations for 2019 will be subject to an extensive examination, starting next week.

The letter also indicated to the senior civil servants that they should ensure that all assets, liabilities, and income, in Jamaica and abroad, were included in their declarations.

They were given two weeks to respond if there was anything else they wish to add to their declarations, or to sign the letter to say the declarations are correct.

“These are some of the island's top public servants who have served for several years without any hint of corruption being linked to them,” one senior public servant told the Observer as he pointed out that his colleagues are peeved over the implication of the demand by the Integrity Commission.

“This is a witch-hunt that will soon spread to other people, including members of the Cabinet. To compound the matter, these people cannot get advice from the attorney general; they have to retain lawyers at their own expense,” added the public servant.

The Integrity Commission is prevented by legislation to comment on this development, which comes days after it released its 2019-2020 annual report in which it said two parliamentarians and six public officials had been referred for possible prosecution for providing false information in their statutory declarations.

The report did not name the people who could face prosecution and, since it was tabled in Parliament last Tuesday, there has been no comment from Jamaica Labour Party leader, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, or People's National Party President Opposition Leader Mark Golding, on the matter.

Under the Integrity Commission Act, any person who knowingly gives false information at an enquiry being conducted by the director of investigation commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding $2 million or up to two years in prison.

In addition, any person who knowingly makes any false statement in their statutory declaration commits an offence under the Corruption Prevention Act and could be fined up to $1 million or sentenced to a term not exceeding two years.

News of the probe into the statutory declarations of the senior public servants came hours after Professor Trevor Munroe, head of the anti-corruption entity National Integrity Action (NIA), wrote to the prime minister urging him to intensify the review, “and hopefully acceptance of legislative recommendations made by the Integrity Commission designed to strengthen Jamaica's anti-corruption, good governance and integrity framework”.

Pointing to the recommendations which are included in the report tabled in Parliament, Munroe noted that the commission made 16 recommendations, including 10 amendments to the legislation.

“At least two of these debar and crossbar contractors who have failed to perform their contracts to the required standard and, secondly, to amend the Integrity Commission Act to allow the commission to comment on investigations have been made in previous annual reports (2017/18 and 2018/19) by the commission,” said Munroe.

“The latter recommendation is of immediate relevance, as some parliamentarians continue to be in breach of anti-corruption laws, no doubt encouraged by the fact that the law protects them from being publicly named by the Integrity Commission,” added Munroe as he expressed concern that the Integrity Commission Oversight Committee which is charged with the responsibility to consider and make recommendations to strengthen its operations has met only three times since it was set up on May 12, 2017, and only once in the more than 10 months since the September 2020 General Election.

“In light, therefore, of the continuing high cost of corruption to our people, the Cabinet's full sensitisation to these costs, as well as your stated priority to strengthen the combat of corruption, I am asking that you use your good offices to ensure urgent review, acceptance, and passage of these recommendations to strengthen good governance in Jamaica,” declared Munroe.

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