|PM urges citizens to report acts of corruption
|CHARMAINE N CLARKE, Western Bureau editor
Wednesday, March 12, 2003
|Prime Minister P J Patterson addresses yesterday's launch of the Corruption Prevention Commission, at the Jamaica Conference Centre in Kingston. (Photo: Michael Gordon)|
PRIME Minister P J Patterson yesterday urged citizens to replace whispered rumours of corruption, with official reports to the newly launched Corruption Prevention Commission, as he reaffirmed his administration's commitment to lead the charge to stamp out corrupt activities across the island.
"We have a habit in Jamaica, of whispering things on verandahs and saying everybody knows this and everybody knows that; and when a body is established to hear evidence nobody is prepared to come forward," the prime minister said at the commission's launch at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston. "This Commission is an invitation for everybody in Jamaica who know about corruption to speak up, to stand up and be counted to help us eliminate corruption once and for all in our country."
The five-member commission, headed by retired Supreme Court Judge, Chester Orr, has the power to investigate reports of corruption against public servants, members of the private sector and civil society. In addition, public servants who earn over $2 million a year (or any persons selected by the commission) are expected to begin filing annual statutory declarations, as of April 30 and not March 31 as initially announced earlier by the Justice Ministry. Other groupings expected to file include those working in special areas of government such as customs, immigration and the security forces.
Persons found in violation of the Act can be jailed for up to two years and/or face a maximum fine of $200,000.
The 13-member commission staff will have to wade through and analyse more than 15,000 returns this year, according to secretary-general David Gray. That number may increase or decrease next year, based on the information contained in the initial declarations as well as the discretion of the commission.
Critics of the Patterson administration, which has managed to endure several major scandals including Netserv and NHDC/Operation Pride, have accused it of being tainted - if not mired -- in corruption. But this is a claim that the government has steadily rejected, pointing to its attempts to push through the anti-corruption and the Access to Information Acts.
Yesterday, Patterson again acknowledged the critical need for his administration to lead the fight against corruption from the front, contending that even a hint of corruption surrounding one member affects the reputation of the entire group.
"What affects one, affects all and a bad mango will spoil the whole mango crop because it is our reputation which is at stake," he said. "And when charges are made, it is not only affecting the individual, it is affecting the reputations of all of us."
At the same time, he cautioned the media to be careful of sullying the reputations of innocent persons, in the reporting of corruption charges brought as a result of the new Act.
"We have to be very zealous in the protection of our freedom. We amended the bill in its original form to make sure that there were no fetters on the rights of the press to make reports in respect of allegations of corruption," Patterson said. "We do not ask that any special rules be devised for politicians and public servants. All we ask is that the cannons of good journalism be observed, and that mere speculation with its attendant damaging effects be avoided."
Adding that both political will and public participation are integral for the success of the commission, the prime minister pledged "to ensure the political will is not only expressed but conveyed in tangible form".
According to Justice Minister and Attorney General AJ Nicholson, the provision of funding for an ongoing education campaign on the CPC was written into the regulations, and while he could not supply a figure, he said funds would be made available.
"We don't know (how much money we are talking about), it is according to the budget for each year. But provided we can find the exact amount, we will do it; but if not, an adequate amount (will be sourced) to carry on the information and education procedures," he told the Observer after the launch.
The Corruption Prevention Act was passed in 2000 but the legislation is only now being enforced because regulations were still being hammered out, along with the finances for the staffing of the operation.
In addition to Justice Orr, the other members of the Commission are:
* Anglican priest Cannon Weevil Gordon;
* Attorney Don Chin See;
* Auditor General Adrian Strachan; and
* Educator Rosemarie Vernon.