Thu | Aug 13, 2020

Editorial | Late revelation of Hanna ruling unfortunate

Published:Monday | July 6, 2020 | 12:12 AM

The public has a legitimate interest in, and an absolute right to know, the substance of the ruling by the director of public prosecutions (DPP) on whether Lisa Hanna, the People’s National Party’s member of parliament (MP) for South East St Ann, broke the law when she recommended executives of the party in her constituency for public works contracts between 2011 and 2015.

The DPP said no but nonetheless argued that “a culture of negligence and/or unethical management” in awarding contracts had developed in the parish’s municipal government “under the aegis of Ms Hanna”. In that regard, Ms Hanna did not escape scot-free. She was made to suffer the opprobrium of DPP Paula Llewellyn. Once the ruling became public, Jamaicans were, in a sense, invited to share in Ms Llewellyn’s criticism. Ms Hanna, perhaps, deserves the censure.

But while The Gleaner welcomes the revelation of Ms Llewellyn’s legal and other opinions on the St Ann affair, we are a little disappointed at the timing of its emergence – a full year after its delivery, and days after the publication by the Integrity Commission of its report into the corruption at the state-owned Petrojam oil refinery that is proving embarrassing to the governing Jamaica Labour Party. For though the timing of the two events may be merely coincidental – probably the subject of leaks – it leaves the impression of a political tit for tat that could deepen public cynicism and lessen the opportunity for a serious, non-partisan debate on corruption in Jamaica.

In the event, the development should place on the agenda what should be the obligation of the Integrity Commission, and the DPP, in making public their findings and declarations after investigations and referrals.

This issue began in 2017 when the former contractor general, Dirk Harrison – whose office has since been subsumed into the new Integrity Commission – conducted an investigation into the role of Ms Hanna, and her constituency office, in recommending persons for contracts, which were paid for by taxpayers out of her Constituency Development Fund and supervised by the St Ann Municipal Corporation.

Mr Harrison found several instances in which Ms Hanna recommended political associates for contracts, including in at least one instance where an employee of the MP’s constituency was a close family member of the person recommended for a contract.

NO EVIDENCE

It is against this backdrop that Mr Harrison asked Ms Llewellyn to determine if Ms Hanna’s action amounted to a “conflict of interest” and whether she, “as a member of parliament and in this regard a public servant, wilfully neglected to perform her duty and/or wilfully misconducted herself to the point of abuse of public trust and fraud”.

In response, the DPP said that there was no evidence that Ms Hanna departed from established procurement procedures and that, in any event, “mistake, misjudgement, negligence, or even dishonesty in the award of government contracts are not, in and of themselves, sufficient to establish a foundation for a criminal charge”.

It is unfortunate that the DPP’s declarations, including her remarks relating to the behaviour of the municipal government, were not in the public domain a year ago so that issues surrounding Ms Hanna’s actions might have been debated in their own right, rather than being appended to the Petrojam matter as a sort of ping-pong match between the political partisans, in an attempt to make the case that the other side’s scandal is bigger and juicier.

In this regard, we suggest that Parliament consider amending the Integrity Commission Act to require that the commission, within three months of receiving a response to referral to the DPP, cause a summary of that report to be published. Similarly, the broad decisions of the commission’s director of corruption prosecution, relating to any report referred to that division by the director of investigations, should also be published within 90 days of the tabling of the report in Parliament, or its publication by the Integrity Commission, whichever is first.

Further, which is related to the latter point, we repeat our proposal that the commission, by statute, be required to publish forthwith any report that it forwards to Parliament and which is not laid on the table of the House within 90 days of its delivery to the Speaker.

Public corruption is, after all, too serious an issue in Jamaica for it to be subject to political gamesmanship.