Chuck: Don’t prejudge lawmakers under IC scrutiny
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has cautioned against “speculations” about the “nature of the illicit enrichment” for which six members of the Lower House are being investigated by the Integrity Commission (IC). In a Gleaner interview on Monday,...
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has cautioned against “speculations” about the “nature of the illicit enrichment” for which six members of the Lower House are being investigated by the Integrity Commission (IC).
In a Gleaner interview on Monday, Chuck noted that there might be explanations that the persons have not yet disclosed to the commission.
“One has to be careful when you say that six persons are being investigated for illicit enrichment. There might be [an] easy explanation as to how they came by the property,” he said.
The IC, in a response to a question from the Parliamentary Oversight Committee, said that declarants who were being investigated for illicit enrichment “must, by law, be given an opportunity to explain how they came by their assets”.
“We are speculating. We don’t know what is the nature of the illicit enrichment,” Chuck said.
The minister said that while he respected the work of the IC, at times, the anti-corruption body goes “unnecessarily wide”.
Questions have been raised about a possible conflict of interest if lawmakers who might be under investigation for illicit enrichment are allowed to contribute to the process of amending the parent law of the commission.
While arguing that “it may well be a conflict of interest”, Chuck questioned: “Are you saying that whatever they put to Parliament would be wrong? Parliament is a body that can debate whatever is put [to it[.”
In its 2022-2023 annual report, the IC’s executive director, Greg Christie, raised what he called a “what if” concern regarding the potential for a conflict of interest, which needs to be openly discussed in the public interest.
“It concerns the question as to what should happen if a parliamentarian who sits on the Integrity Commission Act Joint Select Committee, or the IC Parliament Oversight Committee, should become the subject of an IC Investigation.”
COMPOUNDING THE PROBLEM
According to Christie, the lawmaker would know and the IC would be aware, but the public would not know about the ongoing investigation, unless the official makes a voluntary public disclosure about it, and recuses himself/herself from the deliberations of the committee.
He said that with the IC gagged by Section 53(3) of the act from disclosing who it is investigating, this would compound the problem.
Chuck told The Gleaner that the Joint Select Committee reviewing the Integrity Commission Act will be looking at amending Section 36(3), which states: “The commission may, at any time, submit a report relating to any particular matter which, in the opinion of the commission, requires the special attention of the Parliament.”
“We are looking at amending Section 36 to make it very clear that if a department, ministry or individual [is] under investigation, once they are given the opportunity to respond to the claim or allegation and it forms a part of the report, then that report can be tabled in Parliament,” he said.
A CERTAIN MISCHIEF
The minister signalled that the committee would take steps to reach an agreement on the way forward when the next session of Parliament resumes in September.
Chuck had proposed in October 2022 that the IC could use Clause 36 of the legislation to submit preliminary reports of investigations that they are pursuing.
However, the IC in its 2021-2022 annual report had questioned the suggestion made by Chuck.
It said: “If the mischief that the ‘gag’ is seeking to cure is to prevent the tarnishing of the reputations of public officials by prohibiting the IC from making a public announcement of its investigations, then how is that mischief cured when the IC is allowed to make the same public announcement via the tabling of a report in Parliament? Is not the presumed offending public announcement made in either case?”