September 22. 2013: If we are serious about the work done by the Office of the Contractor General, we must urgently reform the way in which reports from that office are dealt with. Currently reports from the OCG are tabled in Parliament, make the headlines, serve as fodder for the talk shows, prompt a flurry of press releases from whoever is named in the reports. And that’s it.
This is entirely inadequate and we, as Jamaicans, must press for more. Each report from the OCG must be subjected to Parliamentary scrutiny and debate. Unfortunately, the public’s attention tends to be focused on the OCG’s referrals to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for possible criminal prosecutions, and it is these referrals that generate most of the heat associated with the report. This is usually to the detriment of other, very serious issues raised.
Attorney-at-law Clyde Williams has stated that such referrals should, instead, be sent to the DPP under confidential cover, to be publicized only if the DPP decides that criminal charges should be laid. I support this. If the DPP decides that there is no evidence to support criminal charges, then the matter would end there, without possibly unfair public exposure of the persons involved.
From a practical point of view, it surely cannot be of assistance in an on-going criminal investigation to announce to the world – and the subject – that such an investigation is under-way.
In the meantime, without the focus on a DPP referral, the nation would have been free to focus on what is usually the gravamen of the reports – maladministration and breakdowns in systems of government.
Here are four examples from the Spaulding Market Report which have received almost no attention.
- Given the finding that Officers of the Clarendon Parish Council were reticent in addressing the issue of the illegally constructed wooden shops, the CG is recommending that an accountability framework be created and implemented to clearly outline the reporting relationships and obligations of Officers at the Parish Councils in order to ensure that there is no recurrence of the lack of action which has tainted the Clarendon Parish Council.
- The CG is recommending that there be an absolute separation of the responsibilities of the Members of Parliament in regard to the identification and/or approval of projects which are to be undertaken in their Constituency and the selection and/or approval of Contractors to execute the identified works. In the event that an absolute separation is not feasible, the CG recommends that the appropriate checks and balances be put in place to ensure that there is no undue political interference.
- The CG recommends that the Clarendon Parish Council, and any other Public Body which is seeking to recover the cost of electricity or any other utility, establish an equitable, legitimate, measurable and realistic basis upon which to charge and/or recover the cost of such utilities which are provided to third parties.
- Given the circumstances which have surrounded the entire Spalding affair, the OCG is recommending that a legislative and/or governance framework be established to guide Ministers of Government and Members of Parliament as it concerns their roles, functions, responsibilities and involvement in the decision making processes of Public Bodies. The legislative and/or governance framework should detail the appropriate sanctions which can be adopted should a Minister and/or Member of Parliament overstep his/her authority as it concerns the functions of a Public Body.
These are all recommendations from just ONE report that have the potential to significantly improve standards of governance and transparency.
I would recommend that the following is the procedure that should be followed:
1. OCG report is tabled in Parliament.
2. The Report should be scrutinized, perhaps by a Parliamentary Committee which then reports to the House and Senate.
3. The House and Senate should debate the report and the relevant Minister should announce in Parliament which recommendations are to be accepted, and in what time frame they will be implemented. The Minister should also explain the reasoning behind the rejection of any of the recommendations.
4. After six months, the Minister should come back to Parliament with a statement indicating the progress made on implementation.
All this can be done even as debate continues over the possible reform of the office, and the establishment of a single Anti-Corruption Agency. Indeed, a similar procedure should be followed in relation to reports from any such agency to ensure that the country receives maximum benefit from these investigations.
Considerable work goes into these reports. We have established the Office of the Contractor General and we mouth platitudes about the importance of transparency and good governance. Let’s show that we mean it.