Growing calls for MPs under probe to be named; commentator says gag order on legislators threatens democracy
POLITICAL COMMENTATOR Lloyd B. Smith has suggested that the latest move by the Andrew Holness-led administration to gag its lawmakers from commenting on matters relating to the Integrity Commission (IC) is indicative of a “chipping away” of the...
POLITICAL COMMENTATOR Lloyd B. Smith has suggested that the latest move by the Andrew Holness-led administration to gag its lawmakers from commenting on matters relating to the Integrity Commission (IC) is indicative of a “chipping away” of the democracy that Jamaica has enjoyed for decades.
Among those barred from addressing IC issues are believed to be six government parliamentary executives under investigation for illicit enrichment.
Jamaica has been known as one of the most democratic countries not only in the region, but the world, Smith said yesterday in a Gleaner interview.
“Our democracy has been a very thriving one. But what we are now witnessing is a chipping away of this type of democracy that we have enjoyed, whereby it’s a case of people’s right to know is being impinged on to satisfy the personal objective of a Government who obviously is in a mode where it is becoming almost frightened by the reality of what is to come,” Smith said.
In the wake of revelations by the IC last week that the lawmakers being investigated for illicit enrichment have been notified, several civil society groups have raised concerns about the possibility of legislators sitting on sensitive parliamentary committees such as the Joint Select Committee reviewing the IC law, the Integrity Commission Oversight Committee, and the Ethics Committee.
They cited a possible conflict of interest as these lawmakers could influence critical decisions made by the committees.
Further, if ministers of Government are under investigation for illicit enrichment, there is the view that they should step aside owing to the influence and power that they wield.
“It’s a very messy affair, and it is an insult to the intelligence of the Jamaican people. We live in a democracy, and our leaders ought to be more responsive as well as responsible when it comes to such sensitive matters of transparency, which is what this really boils down to,” said Smith in response to the concerns raised by civil society.
“I don’t think it augurs well for our democratic way of life because it suggests to me that we may be moving in the direction of Government becoming more and more autocratic in its approach in dealing with issues that it fears may embarrass it,” he added.
He described the shutting down of public utterances by government MPs regarding the six lawmakers under probe for illicit enrichment as a pre-emptive move by the administration to cauterise a situation that has become more intriguing.
Twenty-two opposition lawmakers in the legislature told The Gleaner that they had not been contacted by the IC in relation to illicit enrichment.
The political commentator said that the Jamaican public is desirous of knowing who the lawmakers are that are being investigated for illicit enrichment.
“I suspect that this sort of gag order is really to protect the six until such time as they can no longer be protected,” he reasoned.
However, Smith, a former People’s National Party member of parliament, noted that it is inevitable that those names will be revealed.
“It would have been better if the Government had taken a more proactive approach rather than a reactive approach, which, in the long run, will not augur well either for itself or for the perception of Jamaica in the international sphere,” he said.
Smith is of the view that Jamaica might not fare well in the next report penned by Transparency International, which ranks 180 countries around the world by their perceived levels of public-sector corruption.
In the 2022 corruption perception index (CPI), Jamaica improved one place in the country rankings.
However, the country remained the fourth most corrupt state in the Caribbean based on the CPI rankings.
In June, a Sunday Gleaner-commissioned study gauging public perception on corruption revealed that politicians have surpassed the police as the most corrupt group in Jamaica.
Commenting on the gag order the administration has imposed on its members, Rosemarie Francis-Binder, member of the Advocates Network, said it was worrying to hear that the Government has silenced its parliamentarians on the issue of illicit enrichment.
She called on the lawmakers who know that they are being probed for illicit enrichment to take the responsibility, step aside and “show some respect for the Jamaican people that they serve”.
Francis-Binder argued that with an investigation taking place “a decent representative would say, ‘You know, I am the one that is under investigation and I know the investigation will clear my name, and so let me step aside while this is happening’.
“I would call on those persons unequivocally to step aside, and I think that this should be encouraged by the leaders in Government,” she added.