Thu | Jul 25, 2024

Gordon Robinson | Matter of integrity

Published:Sunday | September 24, 2023 | 12:08 AM

Opposition Leader Mark Golding and PNP members of parliament stage a walkout on September 19 after the then House Speaker Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert spoke on the Integrity Commission’s investigation report.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding and PNP members of parliament stage a walkout on September 19 after the then House Speaker Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert spoke on the Integrity Commission’s investigation report.

So a parliamentarian is finally named in the proper context namely that she’s to be charged for corruption related offences.

As I’ve previously written “I don’t care who is “investigating” whom for what. If the investigation reveals enough EVIDENCE to support a prima facie case for prosecution then by all means let me know. Until then just do your job. Quietly, please.” ( Sunday Gleaner; August 20).

On September 19, IC posted the following notification:

“IC’s Director of Corruption Prosecution has, pursuant to…. Sections 54(3)(b) and 54(4) of the [Integrity Commission] Act, and Sections 34(1)(a) and 34(1)(b) thereof, reviewed the subject Investigation Report and ruled: ‘…it was determined that Mrs. Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert should be charged for four (4) counts of breach of section 15(1)(b) of the Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act 1973 for Making a False Statement in a Statutory Declaration for the periods ending December 31, 2015, February 25, 2016, December 31, 2016 and December 31, 2017. It was also determined that Mrs. Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert should be charged for four (4) counts of breach of section 43(2)(a) of the Integrity Commission Act 2017 for Making a False Statement in a Statutory Declaration for the periods ending December 31, 2018, December 31, 2019, September 3, 2020 and December 31, 2020…’”

Well allllllrighty then!

If readers anxiously await my analysis of the charges and published evidence, stop reading. Turn on your radio/TV where too much scrutiny and discussion of the charges by people whose direct knowledge of the facts is more limited than mine abounds. To them I say, like Roberto, “no mas!”

Jamaica already has an agency independent of IC; Marissa; and Parliament to do all that. It’s called the Judiciary.

But We the People do have the absolute right to discuss fundamental issues of governance connected to IC’s reports. Despite Government being aware of these reports’ contents at least eight days in advance, the Speaker presided over the tabling of reports indicting her. Then she referred both reports to IC Oversight and Ethics Committees. Then she prevented further discussion.

Gleaner reported IC Chairman Seymour Panton as saying a September 11 cover letter was sent directly to Deputy Speaker and Clerk to both Houses of Parliament. Panton was quoted as informing the purpose was to ask those House officials to “take special note that the subject of the referenced investigation is the sitting Speaker of the House of Representatives”.

Just in case that hint was too veiled, the letter specifically stated that, “in the interest of good governance, the Hon Speaker may deem it appropriate to recuse herself from the parliamentary processes associated with the matter”.

What then took place in the bowels of Government or JLP’s Parliamentary Caucus remains unclear. Did Deputy Speaker speak to the Speaker? Did Deputy Speaker give the Speaker any advice? If yes, what was that advice? Was it heeded? If not what was the Speaker’s reason, if any, given for disregarding the advice?

Did Deputy Speaker make a report to PM? If yes, did PM speak with the Speaker? Did PM offer any advice to the Speaker? If yes, what was that advice? Was it heeded? If not what was the Speaker’s reason, if any, given for disregarding the advice?

But, let a woman in your life

and patience hasn’t got a chance.

She will beg you for advice;

your reply will be concise.

And she’ll will listen very nicely

then go out and do precisely

what she wants!

More questions arise based on PM’s absence from Tuesday’s Parliamentary sitting. He must’ve known (any competent PM would) this report was to be tabled and the Speaker intended to preside. Was he absent out of frustration that his advice wasn’t heeded? Did he contemplate issuing the Speaker with an order not to preside with or without accompanying ultimatum?

Where was PM on Tuesday afternoon? What on God’s green (oops, sorry, “great”) earth was more important than being in Parliament to deal with the predictable backlash from this unnecessary display of arrogance?

BY Thursday evening, news broke that the Speaker had resigned. She wrote:

Since the Integrity Commission has decided to charge me criminally for an omission, I have considered the damage this has done to my reputation and have decided to tender my resignation both as the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Member of Parliament for South Trelawny, with immediate effect….

I wish to state categorically that my decision is entirely voluntary, and not at the request of anyone.

Her outrageous performance in Parliament on Tuesday meant resignation, as Speaker, was an inevitable consequence. I don’t accept her resignation’s appropriateness as linked to IC’s findings. Resignation as MP was unwarranted. That extra “jook” for Government looks to me like spite which, if my analysis is correct, tends to contradict her “entirely voluntarily” claim.

The Speaker’s unabashed condescension in stating she was tabling the reports to avoid any appearance of “conflict of interest” sounded like something Calvin would say to Hobbes. Then her immediate referral to two Parliamentary Committees (one of which she chairs) was blatantly defensive; legally untenable; and reprehensible to parliamentary practice. Her belated promise to recuse herself from Ethics Committee discussions was at best laughable since she failed to recuse herself from any prior parliamentary process regarding the reports. Of what effect is recusing yourself from a committee AFTER arrogating unto yourself the authority to send reports indicting you to that Committee?

KMT.

JIS, on January 17, 2006: “The House of Representatives gave unanimous approval for the appointment of an Ethics Committee to investigate and report on complaints regarding the conduct of parliamentarians.”

Nobody has made any report to the Ethics Committee about Marissa’s conduct. IC has reported to Parliament that it plans to lay criminal charges against her in a court of law for alleged breaches of the Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act and the Integrity Commission Act (ICA). What’s Ethics Committee to do? What “complaint” is Ethics Committee to investigate? Is Ethics Committee to usurp the roles of DPP and Judiciary combined; find Marissa’s explanations reasonable; and absolve her? If not that, WHAT?

The IC Oversight Committee is set up due to a provision of ICA that calls for a review of ICA. These reports are NOT ICA. They are the result of the performance, by IC, of one of its duties under ICA. They cannot be reviewed by IC Oversight Committee. It’s a complete nonsense to refer these reports to that Committee.

This gift of fodder for Opposition propaganda is entirely Government’s fault. Government failed to cauterize predictable public relations fallout certain to result from permitting a compromised Speaker to so blatantly embrace conflict of duty and interest. The reports were bad enough. Did Government really need additional drama?

Minister Marlene, in a Tweet, defended the Speaker’s referrals by relying on ICA section 73D (d) and (e) which provides that the Oversight Committee has the duty of (d) assessing IC’s effectiveness and its procedures’ appropriateness; and (e) considering a report submitted under section 36.

Oh dearie me. Reviewing these reports has NOTHING to do with IC’s procedures or effectiveness but everything to do with its recommendations. The report is EXPRESSLY made under sections 34 and 54 NOT under section 36 which provides:

36(1) The [Integrity] Commission may, at any time, be required by either House of Parliament to investigate a matter relating to an act of corruption and table a report thereon”

But the central issue isn’t the referral’s dubious validity. At the core of the resignation-worth performance is the denial of due process. The reports’ subject ordered the self-serving referral. Minister Marlene’s tweet majored in the minor and reeked of political panic and legal immaturity.

And we can always depend on the Opposition to allow political anxiety to cloud reason and dilute duty. Every MP’s duty is to represent constituents IN PARLIAMENT. The Opposition’s childish walkout after the Speaker’s ill-advised action was irrational.

I’m an Ordinary Man is from my favourite musical My Fair Lady performed on Broadway and in the movie by Rex Harrison. Rex plays a confirmed bachelor who takes an uneducated flower-girl off the streets to teach her upper class diction. He’s frustrated by her stubborn refusal to respond to his pedantic pedagoguery so fulminates against her entire gender.

Opposition absented itself from its ONLY workplace without excuse in dereliction of its duty to constituents. Time come for Opposition to learn walkouts are last resorts appropriate only where parliamentary presence is more dangerous to duty than absence. When the Speaker insisted on sitting a potential JLP Mole with Opposition MPs, PNP should have walked out.

Instead, PNP wimped out.

NOW is when Opposition walks out? For pity’s sake, go back to work. Ask the questions listed here. Where else will PNP do that? At an uptown hotel surrounded by “topanaris”?

Peace and Love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com