Policing Corruption in Jamaica
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(15 January 2024) — The current review of the laws governing the Integrity Commission (IC) now under review by Jamaica’s parliament appears to be for the wrong reasons. So far, the perception is that the legislators, some of whom are hellbent on weakening the IC, are engaging in a process to shield corrupt politicians and high-level government officials from scrutiny and accountability. By extending immunity to those who should be held accountable when deemed culpable is another way of saying to the people that a certain cadre of Jamaicans are free to enrich themselves, their families, and friends at the expense of the public.
Anti-Corruption bodies with responsibilities to investigate and prosecute corrupt practices should be strengthened, not weakened. At the same time, there must be guideposts for the fair treatment of everyone. The law must ensure that no person in Jamaica receives special treatment or exemptions based on social, political, or economic status. All Jamaicans are or should be treated as equals under the law and due process must be accorded to all.
Far too often we see instances of what appears to be biased in the way the anticorruption laws are enforced. If not biased, then the bodies responsible are incompetent or negligent. If neither, then it’s corruption — malfeasance.
When I speak with fellow members of the Jamaican diaspora, something I do continuously, and I ask about the issues most important to them, the answers are always the same. The number one issue is crime and security followed closely by corruption, which is itself a major crime. The prevalence of corruption in Jamaican society is no longer to be treated as perception. Corruption in Jamaica by any standard is reality.
Right to due process
No one should be deemed guilty of a crime until adjudged by a court of law. Hence, every person accused of wrongdoing has a right to due process. The public is not the final arbiter when a crime is committed. But politicians who take the oath of office to represent the people’s interests are expected to always act in the best interest of the people and must be held accountable. If not by the courts, by the people at the ballot.
Thus, the handling, or more appropriately stated, bungling, of the recent case regarding the president and CEO of the National Water Commission (NWC) and his wife is quite troubling.
Hence while the statute of limitations for non-capital offenses bar prosecution after a certain period, running of the statute does not absolve the individual of the crime he or she is accused of committing. Justice is not served, neither is the public’s interest served.
Where does the fault lie?
Demand for answers
There appears to have been either nonfeasance or malfeasance in the process. The statute of limitations is not intended as a way for an accused to run out the clock. It is intended for those responsible for investigation and prosecution to act with alacrity to bring closing – justice – in a timely manner. It is unfair to keep charges pending over the head of an accused for an inordinate amount of time, thus keeping the accused in limbo. Accusations disrupt the accused person’s life, which is itself an injustice.
If Jamaica is to escape the reality of corruption and the debilitating effects it has on the society, certain questions demand answers from the bodies in the chain of reporting, investigation, and prosecution. This case is ripe for examination. Clearly somewhere in the system there must have been an authority with an eye on the statute of limitation. If not, why not?
I propose that answers are demanded to the following questions:
- At the time this matter was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), had the statute of limitations already run?
- If it was, what would be the purpose of the referral to the DPP?
- If not, why did the DPP allow the statute to run before deciding as to whether to prosecute?
- If the answer to question 1 is yes, then that gives rise to the next question. At the time the matter was referred to the Integrity Commission (IC), had the statute already run?
- If the answer to question 4 is yes, why did the IC deem it necessary to investigate and subsequent referral to the DPP?
- If the statute of limitations had already expired at the time of initial reporting or referral to the IC, a further question is which agency of government failed to make a requisite timely report to the IC to initiate an enquiry or investigation and why?
- If the statute of limitations had not expired at the time the IC received the case, was the IC’s delay in completion of the process deliberate or inadvertent?
Neither scenario in question 7 absolves the IC of responsibility. If inadvertent, then the IC is incompetent and negligent. If the IC delay was deliberate, the IC must answer for what appears to be malfeasance which effectively obstructed accountability and pursuit of justice.
Corruption stealing from the public
The process and failure to act in the interest of the public from the initiation of the matter to the point of the DPP’s decision must be examined and responsible persons held accountable. The public has a right to know and must be fully informed.
During each step in the process, there was a failure — nonfeasance, misfeasance, or malfeasance. Whichever applies, the prevailing perception is there was corruption. This may extend beyond the actions for which the individuals were accused to the way the case was handled. This case provides further evidence of the reality of the prevalence of corruption in the system of governance in the country.
Corruption is like a “robber baron”. It robs the people of what is rightfully theirs. Corruption does not discriminate as to who is deprived but affects mostly underserved Jamaicans disproportionately. Corruption robs the poor of quality education and quality healthcare, and of social and economic programs to lift the marginalized and underserved out of poverty. Corruption is a driver of criminal behavior which denies every Jamaican of their personal safety.
Politicians should not be screaming victimhood and discriminatory targeting by the Integrity Commission. Politicians were not forced into the jobs they coveted and pursued. Politicians are by choice the stewards of the people’s patrimony.
Hence any review of the statute(s) governing the Integrity Commission and other anti-corruption bodies should not be an opportunity to broaden immunity for politicians and other high-level government officials, but rather an opportunity to correct the weaknesses in the system of accountability for corrupt practices. The people of Jamaica deserve better and should demand it.
This article was also published in the Jamaica Gleaner, 14 January 2024
© Curtis A. Ward