This editorial appeared in the March 11 edition of The [Jamaica] Gleaner.
When rational people do glaringly irrational things, it’s because, usually, it makes sense to somebody. In that respect, the act is rational. Which is how we expect cynics will interpret the apparent inability of a large chunk of Jamaica’s legislators to properly complete their annual integrity filings.
Recently, when no one was noticing, someone slipped into the table of parliament the Integrity Commission’s reports for the years 2014, 2015 and 2016, which, for a long time, were log-jammed at the Office of the Prime Minister, where, we suspect, the one for 2017 is still ensconced, unless it, too, has been surreptitiously tabled in the House.
Now, these reports were produced by the old commission, the one that, until a year ago, when it was subsumed into a new, all-encompassing anti-corruption agency that includes the body that used to police the integrity of public sector employees, as well as the Office of the Contractor General, handled the annual assets and liabilities filings by legislators.
This new commission, some of whose members were commissioners in the old agency, should by now have started to prepare its first report for presentation to parliament. It will be of great interest to note how that document compares and contrasts with its predecessors’ and what issues of complaints it has against the people on the integrity of finances it has to pronounce.
In its 2014 report, the old commission made this observation: “The failure of parliamentarians to properly complete the statutory declaration form, and to furnish the required confirmation of account balances and/or financial statements requested, prevented the commission from satisfactorily concluding the examination of the relative statutory declarations in a timely manner.”
It was not the first time they’d made this complaint, as the commission made clear by highlighting some of the problems “as mentioned in previous reports”.
In their 2015 report, the commissioners echoed, verbatim, sections of their previous year’s statement about the failure of members of parliament and senators to properly, and fully, complete their filings, adding that “this unsatisfactory practice continues, despite reminders sent to parliamentarians annually that supporting documents are expected along with their statutory declarations”.
A year later, in 2016, the commissioners appeared, as seemed to have been the case in the previous two years, to have just cut and pasted this section of their reports, down to repeating several shortcomings, such as the scant regard with which attempts to get accurate information were treated, including, “often”, letters sent to the declared addresses of legislators being returned unclaimed.
Rarely face consequences
Such behaviour persists, whether submitting sloppy declarations, or filing them late, because legislators rarely face consequences for disregarding the law. In the 45 years of its existence, before the creation of the new body, only on a few occasions have a handful of legislators been brought before the courts for failing to fulfill their obligations under the law.
Indeed, the commissioners highlighted the case of Ernie Smith, who left parliament in 2012 but, up to August 2018, when the report for 2016 was sent to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, had not filed his report for his last period in the House.
The case was sent to the director of public prosecutions for action but may have become stuck in a file in that office. In the absence of penalties, late and sloppy documents can have value to anyone intent on mischief. Their lateness, together with the inadequacy of information, has the potential of creating a fog in which information is distorted and transparency is hard to achieve. In the circumstance, many things can slip through the cracks.
The new commission has an independent prosecutor. It can proceed with cases on its own volition and also has the capacity to negotiate fines with errant parliamentarians.
Hopefully, it will use these tools.