Not so fast
Golding wants young IC given more time to prove itself, eyes entrenchment
The parliamentary Opposition has sought to distance itself from recommendations made by legislator Everald Warmington that could weaken the country’s foremost anti-corruption body, noting instead that it would support its entrenchment in the Jamaican Constitution over time.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding, who was addressing a meeting of the People’s National Party’s (PNP) National Executive Council at Calabar High School on Sunday, said his team is not in support of Warmington’s call to, among other things, remove the prosecutorial power invested in the commission.
Golding said that while the commission is not without faults – pointing to the furore over a recently tabled report, which implicated Prime Minister Andrew Holness in an alleged conflict of interest, and its ruling – there is nothing fundamentally wrong with its structure.
The commission has maintained that it followed the law in relation to the release of the documents.
“I see Warmington come to Parliament last week with a whole raft of things to essentially gut the Integrity Commission and neuter it so that it is no longer an effective body. We do not support those reforms,” Golding said.
At the same time, he added that the Opposition supports the commission adopting a protocol where a decision that has been made by the director of corruption prosecution is tabled at the same time a report is tabled, if applicable.
Golding said that the commission must reconsider how it handles those matters and others and deal with them properly.
“ … But the idea of taking away their prosecutorial power I will not support. The idea that they can’t investigate anything before 2018 when it came into existence, I do not support that. There are transitional provisions in the law that established them to preserve all pending matters, and those must be preserved and adjudicated,” Golding said.
Warmington’s recommendations come even as Jamaica remains the fourth most corrupt state in the Caribbean.
In the 2022 Corruption Perception Index released by Transparency International in January, Jamaica scored 44 with a ranking of 69th out of 180 countries.
Last year, Jamaica also scored 44 and was ranked 70th out of 180 countries on the scale where zero is considered highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.
Golding told journalists during a follow-up interview that he believed important institutions for the governance of the country should be entrenched within the Constitution.
However, he said a technical challenge is that in order to entrench things, there must be compliance with Section 49 of the Constitution. That section outlines the steps for entrenchment and requires a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament.
The opposition leader said that as constitutional reform is undertaken, one of the things that must be looked at is facilitating the ongoing modernisation of the Constitution, rather than having it be difficult to introduce anything new.
“I’m certainly in favour of the Electoral Commission, which has been tried and tested and [which], I think, is an internationally respected institution that we developed here in Jamaica. I think that should be in the Constitution, and similarly, the Integrity Commission should. I’d like to see them (Integrity Commission) perform a bit longer, though, before we do that because they are very young,” he said, adding that the Integrity Commission has only been in operation for five years.
“I want to see how they continue to mature and grow, but the idea of that institution becoming a constitutional one is something I would support,” said Golding.
STRONG GUARDRAILS NEEDED TO BOOST TRUST IN PARLIAMENT
His comments come as former Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips warned against the weakening of the commission.
Phillips, the member of parliament for St Andrew East Central, said if lawmakers want to restore the public’s confidence in the Parliament, they cannot weaken the overall reputation for integrity.
“And that, in turn, is going to mean that we need a strong set of guardrails as is implied by the Integrity Commission and that the Integrity Commission itself will need to function in a way that builds its reputation.
“But we certainly don’t want to weaken the foundations of parliamentary integrity or the reputation of parliamentary integrity,” Phillips told The Gleaner on Sunday.
He said that he does not support a recommendation for the stripping away of the prosecutorial power of the commission for the very reasons it was granted in the first place.
He pointed to the constitutional provision that gives the director of public prosecutions the power to withdraw a case that remains in place.
“Monopolies – even in matters of administrative powers, as in the market place, generally – are to be frowned upon. The monopoly on prosecution, I think, is not necessary as a guarantee of anything at this point in time,” Phillips said.
“I’m not saying no change, but you certainly don’t want to move with the direction of change that suggests a weakening of the capacities of the Integrity Commission to hold parliamentarians accountable,” he added.
Phillips said that while the commission has not, in recent times, “conducted itself in a way that doesn’t warrant questioning of its conduct”, it must have the capacity it needs to properly function.
“We are facing a crisis in our democracy because people appear not to be believing in the integrity of Parliament and parliamentarians. We ought not to trifle with this concern,” said Phillips.
An overwhelming number of Jamaicans indicated that both the Government and Opposition are underperforming in their respective capacities, according to a February 2023 opinion poll by the Don Anderson-led Market Research Services Limited.
The Holness administration saw a 14.3-percentage point increase in the number of Jamaicans viewing its performance negatively (poor and very poor), moving from 30 per cent in July 2022 to 44.3 per cent seven months later.
The latter figure is a 7.4 percentage point difference from the Golding-led Opposition, with 51.7 per cent of the 1,002 eligible voters polled indicating that the Opposition is performing poorly.
The poll was commissioned by the Opposition.