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JFJ issues a warning against attacking the Integrity Commission.

JFJ issues a warning against attacking the Integrity Commission.

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Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), a human rights organization, has issued a warning to those demanding the resignation of Integrity Commission (IC) members in the absence of any proof of intentional wrongdoing at the corruption watchdog.

Greg Christie, the executive director of the IC, in particular, has been under fire for what critics consider to be his prejudiced and “spiteful” handling of a conflict of interest investigation involving Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

The IC has come under fire for releasing its reports on the inquiry of the prime minister two days apart, despite the fact that the investigation report said that the director of a corruption prosecution at the IC had been referred to look into criminal charges against him. This had to do with the approximately $22 million in contracts given to Westcon Construction Limited, whose owners Holness knew personally.
When Holness was the minister of education between 2006 and 2009, the contracts were given out. The investigation determined that he might have had a say in how the contracts were awarded, and it raised concerns about possible violations of many laws, including the Corruption Prevention Act.
However, a report released by the IC on February 16 claimed that its Director of Corruption Prosecution had decided from as early as January 12 that no charges should be brought against the prime minister for reasons including that too much time had passed. The report, a comprehensive 107-page account of the prime minister’s alleged transgressions, was tabled in the Parliament on February 14 and received extensive coverage in the local and international media.

The commissioners, but especially Christie, received a deluge of criticism and demands for responsibility and an explanation in the days that followed. Even after the IC clarified that it adhered to the letter of the law in how it disseminated the findings, private sector organizations continued to clamor for his head.

On Tuesday, JFJ spoke and advised prudence.

“We believe that unauthorized attacks, using the language of malice to suggest ill-intent are dangerous and undermine the integrity of the commission; besmirches, without evidence, the reputation of the commissioners; and may cause undue loss of trust in the institution, putting the lives and safety of its officers at risk,” JFJ said in a statement.

The lobbying group asked Jamaicans to use caution while criticizing and stated that the controversy shows the significance of repealing section 53(3) of the Integrity Commission Act, widely known as the “gag clause.”

JFJ stated: “We note that the Commissioners have expressed their belief that, pursuant to Section 53(3) of the Integrity Commission Act, the Director of Corruption Prosecution’s decision in a case in which a report has been sent to Parliament, cannot be communicated to anyone prior to the report’s being tabled.

“It appears that the gag order unintentionally restricted the commissioner’s ability to handle this situation. Although there may be disagreements on how the Integrity Commission interpreted and applied the gag order, it is necessary to note that one cannot legitimately expect the commission to behave in accordance with pragmatic or political expediency rather than the law as they understood it.

JFJ maintained that assertions made in the public are only suppositions without a shred of logical support for ferrying a political or malicious intent to the commission in the absence of an investigation.

“We urge the Parliament to request a meeting with the Integrity Commission’s leadership so that it can have an opportunity to ask questions and receive answers, through its oversight committee. Anything less may be interpreted as political posturing, which could jeopardize the commission’s credibility, according to the human rights lobby.
The Prime Minister “has since made remarks that the Integrity Commission Act will need reconsideration,” the statement read.
JFJ noted that a Joint Select Committee of the Parliament is already reviewing the legislation, and it expressed its confidence that the prime minister’s remarks did not portend a potential reduction in the IC’s authority but rather presented a clear chance to lift the gag order.

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