Monday 20 May, 2019

Holness, Phillips spar on interim appointment at Integrity Commission

Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips, sparred briefly in the House of Representatives on Tuesday over the interim appointment of Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Colonel, Daniel Pryce, as head of the newly created Integrity Commission.

Like he did with the initial temporary appointment of Chief Justice Bryan Sykes earlier this year, the Opposition leader also took issue with the temporary appointment of Pryce.

Phillips had voiced his disapproval in a statement Monday evening, hours after the commission announced that Pryce would act in the position for a period of 12 months from November 5.

Phillips said temporary appointments carry the risk of compromising the independence of parliamentary and constitutional commissions which are intended to give oversight to the executive.

He said there was danger in placing the executive director on an interim arrangement, which was similar to the recent acting appointment of the chief justice, which provoked a lot of opposition.

In a swift response on Tuesday, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) said the prime minister played no role in the appointment of Colonel Pryce. An OPM statement said the prime minister was neither consulted nor advised of the appointment. OPM stated that the Integrity Commission is an Independent Commission of Parliament.

But the matter did not end there, as Prime Minister Holness made a statement on the development at the start of Tuesday’s sitting of the House. He said that based on the provisions of the Integrity Commission Act, there is no role for the intervention of the prime minister in the appointment of an executive director for the commission.

Said Holness: “I was neither consulted nor advised of this recent appointment. I saw this in the media like everyone else. It stands to reason that in accordance with its establishment as a commission, it would have used its own judgement in conducting its affairs, including in appointing an interim executive director.”

The prime minister added that, “Anyone who takes the time to read the Act, which is available online, will note that Section 28(1) of the said Act clearly indicates that the executive director is appointed by the governor general, acting on the recommendation of the commission.”

He said “it was unfortunate that the Opposition has again sought to make statements with no basis in fact.”

In his response, the Opposition leader argued that independence should not be interpreted as non-accountability. “This is a parliamentary commission, and to that extent, it has a responsibility to the Parliament for its actions, and the prime minister is the premier representative of the Parliament, with a duty to at least advise as to the conduct of these commissions,” said Phillips.

He told the House that the Opposition’s concern does not amount to a complaint just now. However, he argued that “It is a concern that we have with how the new organisation is getting up to speed in the face of the urgencies of the moment. Therefore, I would recommend that this House calls the appropriate committee to meet and inquire of the chairman to secure for us an understanding as to the causes of the delay in getting permanent appointees to be put in place for this very important organization.”

In the end, the prime minister agreed that the relevant committee of the Parliament should convene to examine the matter even, while he cautioned that such a decision could be premature, as it could be better to allow the commission to get up and running before going that route.

“We should exercise a little bit more patience… You may very well get the answer that in trying to move swiftly to put in place some form of establishment, that is why they have had to move with interim appointments,” Holness cautioned.

He added that: “If we decide as a House to move, maybe with further discussions between the Opposition leader and myself, we should be very careful how we treat with matters dealing with the Integrity Commission that may expose it to any political divide in its review. They are answerable to the Parliament, but we don't want it to become a political issue.”

The Integrity Commission was formed from the merger of Parliament’s Integrity Commission, the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption and the Office of the Contractor General. It has prosecutorial powers and has a mandate that allows it to go after persons in high office who may be engaged in corruption or other criminal acts, including parliamentarians.

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