Sat | Nov 27, 2021

OSC sticks to guns on commish contracts

Published:Sunday | March 28, 2021 | 12:06 AMJovan Johnson - Senior Staff Reporter
Major General Antony Anderson, commissioner of police.
Major General Antony Anderson, commissioner of police.

Just what does the Office of the Services Commissions (OSC) have to hide why it is refusing to let taxpayers know the employment terms of Police Commissioner Antony Anderson and other senior civil servants?

The issue has taken on greater attention as the OSC finalises a process to extend the commissioner’s contract by a likely three years amid concerns about the country’s persistent crime problem.

Are there special inclusions such as non-disclosure clauses in the agreements?

That’s among the questions The Gleaner has asked the Jacqueline Mendez-led OSC, which a month ago advised this newspaper that it had denied an access to information (ATI) request for the contracts of Anderson, Tax Commissioner Ainsley Powell, and the compensation packages for senior police officers and permanent secretaries.

Following a subsequent query, an OSC spokesperson said on March 15 that: “In keeping with the provisions set out in regulation 4(e) of the Access to Information Regulations, 2003, the questions are being examined for a determination to be made.”

The questions, submitted on March 11, are yet to be answered.

Since the issue became public, Prime Minister Andrew Holness; his deputy, Dr Horace Chang, who is also national security minister; the Opposition People’s National Party; as well as some of the country’s leading voices on transparency have affirmed that Jamaican taxpayers deserve to know how their monies were being spent.

However, so far the OSC, which is the administrator for the three services commissions which recommend appointments to key public posts, has not budged.

In fact, the commission has denied subsequent requests for the contracts of previous commissioners of police.

The OSC has cited the privacy clause of the ATI law as the reason it’s not releasing the contracts or compensation packages of the persons who are paid from the public purse.

Holness, Chang and the civil society leaders have argued that the public has a right to the information.

LEGAL HURDLES

The prime minister, however, had suggested that there may be “legal hurdles” blocking disclosure, which, he said, when addressed, could see the documents being released.

“Are there legal issues – legal hurdles – that we have to cross? Sometimes, I suspect that that may be the case. And, as long as we follow the process, definitely the information should be shared,” Holness said at a press conference on February 28, where he also advised that Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte would speak to the ‘hurdles’.

That explanation is yet to come.

Chang told a parliamentary committee meeting on March 3 that talks were being held, suggesting a way was being found for the release of the information he said should be public.

“Discussions will be held and we’ll see how we can proceed. I’m not going to give instruction like this in public space,” Chang said.

Aside from not knowing the salaries paid to the two commissioners, it is not clear whether there were specific performance-related clauses in the contracts and, if so, how they have been evaluated.

The police commissioner’s contract expired on March 19.

Asked if a new contract has been signed, Professor Gordon Shirley, chairman of the Police Service Commission, said the document has “received all the required approvals” but it was for the OSC to deal with the administrative aspects.

A response from the OSC on that issue is also outstanding.

“On what basis would the people of a country not have a right to know how much they pay the commissioner of police or how much they pay the person who collects their taxes?” asked Howard Mitchell, a former president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica.

Helene Davis-Whyte, president of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, said while salaries may be of interest to the public, the introduction of contracts to the public service as part of a performance-measuring tool gives greater imperative for disclosure.

“His (Anderson) contract would not be subject to the same kind of scrutiny as would the contract of anybody who is employed using the direct employment route,” she said, explaining contracting as a means of employment is a departure from the general approach to hiring persons to posts approved by Parliament.

Professor Trevor Munroe, the principal director of the National Integrity Action, said because of citizens’ constitutional right to receiving information, “there would need to be an especially compelling reason for withholding or keeping secret the contract or salary of public officers paid from the public purse”.

Anderson has operational responsibility for the Jamaica Constabulary Force while Powell has responsibility for the direction and management of Tax Administration Jamaica, the entity that enforces tax laws and collects government revenue.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com