Bunting: ‘Illicit 6’ a threat to information sharing with foreign intelligence bodies
Former National Security Minister Peter Bunting says the non-disclosure of the names of the six parliamentarians who are being investigated by the Integrity Commission (IC) for illicit enrichment could have a chilling effect on information sharing...
Former National Security Minister Peter Bunting says the non-disclosure of the names of the six parliamentarians who are being investigated by the Integrity Commission (IC) for illicit enrichment could have a chilling effect on information sharing by foreign intelligence agencies with Jamaica.
“Nobody, even at the level of the JCF or MOCA ... it is fully vetted units that foreign intelligence agencies want to interact with. Imagine when at the highest policy levels you have grave reservations that you are dealing with people who are under criminal investigation. It is going to have a chilling effect on the information that is shared,” Bunting argued last Thursday while speaking during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum at the newspaper’s offices on North Street in Central Kingston.
The top brass of the People’s National Party (PNP) fielded questions from Gleaner reporters and editors ahead of its 85th annual conference set to take place at the National Arena from September 15-17.
At the same time, Opposition Leader Mark Golding has argued that, if the six being probed for illicit enrichment remain in the shadows, this could affect Jamaica’s relationship with its international partners, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank and the country’s bilateral partners.
He contended that the idea of a government potentially having persons being probed for serious corruption offences and a reluctance by the administration to disclose who is under investigation is something which “most right-minded governments around the world would find to be very distasteful thing and the appropriate thing for them to do is to withdraw themselves until the matter is cleared”.
In its latest annual report, the IC revealed that six parliamentarians and 28 other public officials were being investigated for illicit enrichment.
Bunting suggested that, if any of the six being investigated for illicit enrichment sit on the IC Oversight Committee or the joint select committee reviewing the IC law, it would be analogous to having alleged criminals determine the resources that investigators and prosecutors have and the parameters of the investigation determined by the alleged criminals who are being investigated.
SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED
“It is absolutely crazy! No society or media that take themselves seriously would allow that to continue without hammering at it,” Bunting charged.
Responding to a query from the IC parliamentary oversight committee, Kevon Stephenson, director of investigation at the anti-corruption body, said that “all declarants who are being investigated for illicit enrichment must be so advised. Declarants under such an investigation, must, by law, be given an opportunity to explain how they came by their assets”.
Opposition lawmakers in the legislature have told The Gleaner that they have not been contacted by the Integrity Commission regarding any probe into illicit enrichment.
Last month, Prime Minister Andrew Holness told journalists while on a tour of the Clarendon Northern constituency that he did not receive any indications of any in his political party being linked to illicit enrichment investigations.
“I have asked as far and as wide, and I haven’t got a response from everyone, but as far as I have been told, no,” he said at the time.
He had also dismissed the Opposition’s claims of non-contact with the IC as “political gimmickry”.
The Government has imposed a gag order on its lawmakers, prohibiting discussions on IC matters, including investigations.
Senator Donna Scott-Mottley, a PNP vice president, said when the parliamentary Oversight Committee of the Integrity Commission has its next meeting, “I think it is an appropriate time for a declaration to be sought to ensure that nobody who is being investigated sits on that committee”.
She warned that if any member of the Oversight Committee or committee reviewing proposals to amend the IC legislation were under investigation by the anti-corruption body for illicit enrichment, that would constitute a serious conflict of interest.
Greg Christie, executive director of the IC, had raised a “what if” concern, regarding the potential for a conflict of interest in relation to the six being investigated for illicit enrichment.
In the IC’s annual report, Christie questioned what would happen if a parliamentarian who sits on the joint select committee reviewing the IC law, or the IC Parliament Oversight Committee, should become the subject of an investigation by the anti-corruption body.
Members of the IC are restricted by a gag clause in the IC law and therefore cannot name the six parliamentarians under probe for illicit enrichment until an investigation report is tabled in Parliament.
Scott-Mottley said certain sectors of the society have been very silent on the issue of the six parliamentarians under investigation for illicit enrichment.
“I was reflecting recently on when Metry Seaga pointed out in 2019 that corruption had cost the country five per cent of GDP annually, amounting to US$740 million. But I have not heard now any hue and cry about the fact that there are six people who might be sitting in the Cabinet who are contributing to that loss that we experienced as a result of corruption.”
She said the current situation has opened itself up to speculation where everybody was under suspicion.
“If I were a member of a Cabinet, where all those aspersions were being made, I certainly would demand that the six speak up, whether they are backbenchers or in the Cabinet, because it would be critical to the integrity of the entire government that those persons should identify themselves and step aside.”