[“AN ACT to Promote and enhance standards of ethical conduct for Parliamentarians, public officials and other persons by consolidating laws relating to the prevention of corruption and the award, monitoring and investigating of the government contracts and prescribed licenses and to provide for the Establishment of a single body to be known as the Integrity Commission to promote and strengthen the measures for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of acts of corruption; to repeal the Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act and to provide for other related matters”.]
Mr. Speaker, let me start by emphasising the commitment of this Government to fighting and eliminating corruption in this country. Accountability, transparency and integrity are hallmarks of all self-respecting democracies, and these principles must always be promoted and upheld in furtherance of good governance, social cohesion and economic advancement.
There is no denying that whilst we have made significant strides as a politically independent country, we could have achieved much more were it not for corruption in many forms: revenue leakage due to corrupt practices, misuse of public funds, and the overall perception of pervasive corruption, all of which have served to compromise the flow of investment into our country.
This is so critical to the advancement of our country. From all that has been said, the Government and I would dare say and I believe the Opposition have pledged to do all in our power to rid Jamaica of the scourge of corruption and to restore public trust and goodwill in the institutions of the State.
While we all need to take individual responsibility for our actions and endeavour to be agents of change as we do our part in securing a better Jamaica; the role of Legislation is paramount.
I believe we are all in agreement that more can still be done to strengthen the existing regime. The Bill which we are debating today is another critical step towards improving. A critical measure is the establishment of a single Agency which this new Act will create: the new Integrity Commission.
It is important for us today to address concerns that may have been articulated in the public domain. Whenever change is proposed; there will always be uncertainties; some persons will feel they are winners and some will feel they are losers; From my estimation, the nation will win from this new legislation.
The new Integrity Commission will subsume the functions and powers of:
• the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption,
• the Integrity Commission, and
• the OCG.
The effect of this consolidation is that there will be one compliance mechanism for parliamentarians, public officers and members of the public who carry out public functions.
The Commission is under a duty to act independently, impartially, fairly and in the public interest. It has wide powers of discretion to do what is necessary to effectively carry out these functions and no other person or authority, save the Court can affect the autonomy that is given to the Commission.
Significant discourse has been held in relation to the specific effects of the repealing of the Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act, the retention of certain provisions of the Contractor-General Act and the Corruption Prevention Act.
Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that this new consolidated Agency; the Integrity Commission will be stronger and more effective than all of the existing agencies.
The Commission will:
• Build on the strengths of the anti-corruption institutions which it replaces
• Reduce or eliminate existing ineffectiveness
• Safeguard against the abuse of power/authority
One of the most important advancements is that the new Integrity Commission will have the power to prosecute. It has long been a criticism that the existing agencies do not have this power thereby diluting their effectiveness in the fight against corruption.
Given the importance of this piece of legislation, it is understood that the debate has been extensive, and although we note that there will always be aspects which may require revisiting, we are confident that this critical Bill must be passed now.
The legislative process is dynamic and there are specific provisions relating to timelines for review of certain provisions as well as the fact that there will be periodic review of the Legislation as a whole. I will provide further details as I highlight some of the Sections of the Bill.
Acknowledging the recent discourse in the public domain, we should recall Jamaica’s marked improvement on the Global Competitiveness Index which was released in September 2016.
On that Index, Jamaica ranked 75 among 138 countries; having jumped 11 spots, up from 86. It is no surprise that the most significant obstacles to doing business in Jamaica were identified as:
1. Crime and theft
2. Inefficient Government bureaucracy
3. Tax rates
We note however, that on January 25, 2017, Transparency International released its Corruption Perception Index where Jamaica ranked 83 out of 176 countries, as opposed to our ranking in 2015 of 69 out of 168 countries. A factor, in this decline in our position is the fact that this Bill had not been passed thus our current emphasis on moving forward with this and other critical pieces of Legislation.
Despite the fall on the Corruption Index; business and consumer confidence is at an all-time high. Nonetheless, we are acutely aware that corruption has direct links to organized crime, terrorism and money laundering. This is therefore a serious threat to stability and security. Our National Security Policy emphasises the link between crime and corruption. It identifies it as a “clear and present danger” to our country.
The Economic Growth Council has also recently identified corruption as a significant retardant to growth and has made specific references throughout its recommendations in relation to improvement on citizens’ security and safety.
Mr. Speaker, Corruption is being treated as a Tier 1 Threat. We are committed to stamping it out and the new “Integrity Commission” is an important step in the anti-corruption initiative.
Mr. Speaker, an effective anti-corruption programme must have provisions whereby persons in leadership positions set the standard of ethics by which we all operate. Institutional reorganisation is critical and the legal and regulatory framework must create a culture of transparency and honesty, supported by an effective anti-corruption agency.
The specific provisions to which I alluded earlier and which I now detail, relate to:
1. The consolidation of 3 agencies into a single entity as established by Section 5 of this Act, will dramatically diminish bureaucracy and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the entity. Public Officials will now only be required to file statutory declarations through one agency and the anti-corruption directorate will be reduced from eleven to five persons as Commissioners.
The new Commission will be collegial rather than having a single Anti-Corruption Commissioner. The establishment of the Divisions and Directors of Administration, Investigation and Corruption Prosecution by Section 28 is an important development. It is to be noted that there will be separation of functions between these Divisions (Section 29) and that the Director of Corruption Prosecution (specific to the functions of this office) will not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority” (Section 32) except for the constitutional authority of the Director of Public Prosecutions established by (Section 94) of the Constitution of Jamaica.
1. As a deterrent to corruption there will be significant increases in the penalties for corruption related offences (Section 41). The Commission is also to make recommendations to reduce red tape and bureaucracy in public bodies in so far as this may reduce opportunity for corruption. [Section 6 (d)]
2. The new Law in Section 2 will include the judiciary in the definition of “public officials” and “judicial office” is now more clearly and extensively defined. It is to be noted that the effect of this will be that the requirement for the submission of statutory declarations will apply across the board in the public sector.
The Integrity Commission is a Commission of Parliament and as such will function under its general oversight. The Act notably provides safeguards as well as checks and balances against the abuse of power:
1. The appointment of Commissioners [Section 8 (ii)] and Directors of Divisions [Section 28 (iv)] is subject to Parliamentary veto by a special two-thirds majority in either House objecting to the appointment.
2. Provision for confidentiality of matters/individuals under investigation until a report is tabled in Parliament (Section 51: iii), hence protecting against unjustifiable, premature reputational damage.
3. A new provision to allow for public exoneration where an individual so desires where an investigation finds “no acts of corruption or wrong-doing”.
4. Mr. Speaker, as we are all aware, I advanced the concept of full and complete disclosure. At this time the legislation limits this to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. We will be required to publish our assets and liabilities including, all forms of income, automobiles, savings accounts, real-estate mortgages, business investments, and the cash value of any life insurance.
5. I believe that this disclosure should extend to all parliamentarians and also other public officials; but I am satisfied by the inclusion of Section 58 which provides that in within two years, a decision will be made as to all other persons who will be required to disclose their assets and liabilities, and as to the form of that disclosure.
6. The importance of Section 41 cannot be overlooked. This deals with the specific offences for non-compliance with the provisions of the Legislation. The offences and related penalties for non-compliance are critical to the effectiveness of the Legislation.
It is an offence to:
• Fail to file a statutory declaration;
• Not provide information requested by the Commission;
• Not attend an inquiry being conducted by the Investigation Division;
It is also an offence to knowingly:
• make a false statement in a statutory declaration;
• give false information to the Commission;
The Bill empowers the Commission to impose an administrative fixed penalty as an alternative to prosecuting an offender before the Courts. It also sets out the procedure for imposing an administrative penalty (Subsection 3 of Section 41).
7. As I stated before, there are provisions within the Legislation for the Act to be reviewed from time to time by a Committee of Parliament; the first review being within five years from the Act coming into force (Section 58). At that time Mr. Speaker I wish us to reconsider the structure of the Commission itself; to establish an Executive Director to whom the Directors will report in order to improve organizational efficiency and day to day oversight of the Commission.
8. There has been much discussion in relation to the staffing of the New Commission perhaps in the context of public sector restructuring. It must be noted that the Act in Section 60 allows for smooth transition of the staff employed to the Commission for Corruption Prevention, the Contractor General and the exiting Integrity Commission to the Integrity Commission.
In closing Mr. Speaker,
Reducing corruption and improving governance and public service delivery are important for growth and sustainable development. The need in all sectors is too much for public resources to be diverted to the hands of corrupt individuals.
We commit to bold and decisive actions to eradicate corruption by the necessary passing of legislation and restructuring of the justice system.
We commit to a more efficient and effective public sector so removing the need to resort to a “just give me a bly – which I think everyone here knows that means “a special favour or chance by circumventing due process”. Processes will now be more predictable, timely and transparent and people held accountable.
We commit to teaching our children to be able to discern right from wrong so that they will reject corruption and do the right thing.