Mon | Aug 10, 2020

Editorial | Keisha Prince’s mandate

Published:Saturday | December 7, 2019 | 12:00 AM

It’s disappointing that it is only an acting appointment the Integrity Commission has made to the critical post of director of corruption prosecutions. The good thing, though, is that unlike what appeared to have been the case with her predecessor, Dirk Harrison, Keisha Prince has in hand her instrument of appointment. So, or so it seems, she can hit the ground running, assuming that there are cases for her to handle.

There is a potential downside, though. If Ms Prince isn’t permanently appointed to the job, by the time she really settles in, and is fully into her stride, her six-month secondment will be up, and it will be time for her to head back to her substantive job at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Someone else will have to start another climb up the learning curve. Prosecutions might lag and public confidence in the Integrity Commission could erode further.

That is a circumstance the commissioners should strive hard to avoid, given their missteps of the past, such as in their management of relations with Mr Harrison, who was appointed interim prosecutor when his old agency, the Office of the Contractor General, was subsumed into this new body.

It is not clear whether it was a matter of clash of personalities, but it appeared from our view that Mr Harrison was, perhaps unintentionally, shunted to the periphery of the commission, with seemingly insubstantial use made of his prosecutorial skills, or the passion and energy he brought to the fight against corruption. Mr Harrison ‘retired’ after 18 months in the job, during which the Integrity Commission prosecuted no case, even from among the backlog of more than 100,000 failures among public servants, over several years, to file their annual assets and liabilities statements.

Of course, the director of corruption prosecutions, whether with regard to failure to comply with the law’s reporting provisions or of public officials engaging in acts of corruption, has to proceed on the basis of matters routed to her, via the commissioners, from other directors, who investigate complaints and review filings. So, how they perform, which will be subject, in part, to the directives they receive from the commissioners, will bear on what Ms Prince does, and how effectively she performs in her job.

ACT WITH URGENCY

That, notwithstanding, and regardless of the fact of her secondment, Ms Prince must be cognisant of the authority she possesses when acting under the powers of the law. The DPP, given the constitutional powers of that office, may step in at any point during a prosecution to end the matter. The DPP, however, has no power to direct Ms Prince, although under the Integrity Commission Act, if Ms Prince, either on her own volition, or on the commission’s advice, seeks an opinion from the DPP, the DPP’s opinion stands, even if Ms Prince disagrees.

Nonetheless, once the director of corruption prosecution engages a matter, she is her own person, and “shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or body in relation to the conduct of … (her) prosecutorial functions under this act or any other enactment”. It’s an authority we hope Ms Prince will exercise with independence, confidence, diligence and fairness.

In the meantime, the Integrity Commission must act with urgency to fill its other critical posts with full time, rather than acting appointments. It must hire people with energy and a sense of mission to get the job done, signalling that the agency is on a crusade against corruption.