Parliamentarians unaware of being investigated by Integrity Commission
Twelve parliamentarians say they have not been contacted by the Integrity Commission (IC) with respect to the corruption probe of two lawmakers for alleged illicit enrichment.
This comes as Senate President Tom Tavares-Finson has accused Greg Christie, the executive director of the IC, of “inappropriate” behaviour in his use of the microblogging social media site, Twitter.
The 12 are drawn from the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP).
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck; Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Floyd Green and Minister of State in the Health Ministry, Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn are among those who responded to Sunday Gleaner’s poll asking them to confirm whether they were being investigated.
The three said they were not aware of any probe involving them.
The PNP’s representatives in Gordon House who responded said similarly.
They were: Mark Golding, the opposition leader; Anthony Hylton, leader of opposition business in the House of Representatives; Peter Bunting, leader of opposition business in the Senate; Julian Robinson, the spokesman on finance; Dr Morais Guy, who shadows health; Phillip Paulwell, the spokesman on mining and energy; Mikael Phillips who speaks on transport, housing and works; Fitz Jackson and Dr Peter Phillips, a former opposition and party leader.
The Integrity Commission revealed in its recently tabled 2020/2021 annual report that two lawmakers were referred for prosecution for submitting false information on their income and assets, while two others – believed to be the same persons – are being investigated for illicit enrichment.
The Integrity Commission Act, which was proposed under the previous Portia Simpson Miller administration and enacted into law in 2017 under the current Andrew Holness administration, blocks the commission from providing any details about its investigation until a report is tabled in Parliament.
“Parliamentarians”, suggesting a current member, was the choice of word used in a report which elsewhere made it clear when it was referring to former members of parliament (MPs) or senators.
As a result, The Sunday Gleaner is questioning all 84 parliamentarians – 63 MPs and 21 Senators – to ascertain whether they are being probed, starting with mainly senior legislators and Cabinet ministers. The individual responses will be published over the next month.
The JLP has 61 representatives; while the PNP has 22. There’s one independent.
Confirmation through emails, SMS/WhatsApp messages and telephone calls was sought last week from 30 lawmakers, 14 of whom responded.
Twelve gave definitive answers.
NO RESPONSE FROM PM
Questions sent to Prime Minister Holness’ office on July 13 were acknowledged but up to press time, no response came.
Robert Miller, the JLP MP for St Catherine South Eastern, said “no comment”.
That was a similar response from the Senate president, who redirected queries about his status to Christie, whom he said has not been “shy in putting forward his opinions, beliefs and attitudes on the social media”.
“Christie’s modus operandi is to use the social media to put forward his opinions on various and sundry topics and to advance his agenda … So, if you have a question about Christie and his investigations and investigations of the Integrity Commission, such enquiry is best put to Christie,” Tavares-Finson said.
The IC’s director of investigations is Kevon Stephenson.
Tavares-Finson said Christie’s use of Twitter is “quite inappropriate”, given the agency that he leads which has the power to investigate and prosecute any public official or lawmaker.
Christie declined to comment.
However, a review of his Twitter feed highlights only general commentary on corruption and governance issues that emerge regionally or internationally. There was no tweet on any corruption issue in Jamaica.
In a pinned tweet, Christie said his primary objective with the account (@Greg0706) is to “raise awareness, and collate info, about anti-corruption and good governance news, developments, standards and actions globally, and to encourage effective action against the scourge of corruption”.
Christie took over as the commission’s executive director in May 2020.
It’s not clear whether Tavares-Finson was irked by Christie’s tweet on July 11, 2021, which was a comment on weak anti-corruption legislation.
A Sunday Gleaner story that day quoted civil society advocates and lawmakers supporting calls for an amendment to the IC Act to remove Clause 53, which the commission’s own chairman, Justice Seymour Panton, said has ‘trapped’ the anti-corruption agency from commenting or providing details on issues.
In his unrelated tweet, the Christie said: “When leaders or lawmakers anywhere appear to be reluctant to take prompt, decisive and convincing action to stop corruption, inclusive of strengthening weak anti-corruption laws, then, in so doing, they would have raised presumptive red flags about themselves.”
COUNTRY NEEDS TO KNOW
The politicians and advocates argued that the country was entitled to know which legislators are being investigated and the clause was not serving the public interest.
The IC, meanwhile, confirmed yesterday it has asked several senior civil servants, including permanent secretaries, to assure that their 2019 declarations are correct.
In May, The Sunday Gleaner revealed that the Integrity Commission had been investigating a senior official at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information over an undeclared asset.
The official was reportedly asked to explain in late 2020 the assets which included properties in Florida in the United States.
Along with the politicians, six public officials have been referred for prosecution for false income declaration and six others – also believed to be the same – are being investigated for illicit enrichment.
NOT AWARE OF INTEGRITY COMMISSION PROBE
Dr Morais Guy
Dr Peter Phillips