The latest controversy in which Mr. Greg Christie has found himself is not good for the Integrity Commission, the anti-corruption agency which he serves as Executive Director.
His “ask the government” retort to a journalist’s request for his take on the shooting and robbery attack on a director of the commission last Thursday has resulted in calls for his resignation.
Those calls are not unreasonable because the comment has given ammunition to people who have already branded the Integrity Commission as biased against the Government. I do not share that view about the commission, which I know, is headed by a man of unquestionable integrity, Mr Justice Seymour Panton. However, I cannot ignore the fact that the Commission has been trying to recover from its poor handling of its investigation report on a conflict of interest matter involving Prime Minister Mr. Andrew Holness earlier this year.
In that matter the Commission tabled the report in Parliament without the subsequent ruling by its Director of Corruption Prosecution that no criminal charges can be laid against the prime minister.
As if that were not bad enough, Mr Christie took to social media, tweeting a Gleaner report on the investigation without reference to the Director of Corruption Prosecution’s ruling.
That only made matters worse, as it left the Commission under a heavy cloud of suspicion, even after Justice Panton made it clear that the Commission is not influenced by neither malice nor ill will. He was also firm in his declaration that the agency has no agenda other than the discharge of the duties placed on it by the law, without fear or favour.
The fact that politicians on both sides of the House have, in the past and most recently, been very critical of the Integrity Commission whenever it tables reports that do not paint them in a good light, has added fuel to the fire. So even as there is some amount of public support for the Commission, the fact is that politically blinkered supporters of both the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party have either tarnished or burnished the agency’s image to suit their political agenda.
Jamaica cannot allow that mindset to thrive for the simple reason that the Integrity Commission has a critical role in helping to ensure good governance.
I am yet to find someone who disagrees that Mr Christie, during his tenure as contractor general, applied himself to that task with tenacity and commitment. In fact, he was like a one-man crusader against corruption. However, the fact that he often announced investigations before laying formal charges, hurt his office.
In June this year the Jamaica Observer, in an editorial, correctly pointed out that fairness must be at the heart of any decision-making process by any entity that has great power that can either affect the liberty of someone or, more importantly, people’s reputation.
“If the Commission is perceived to be operating counter to that ideal, it will not be effective,” the Observer said.
After all that has happened, it will be difficult for the Commission to convince skeptics that it has no bias — political or otherwise. That, though, is a hurdle that the Commission needs to clear quickly for it to meet is mandate. The work it has been doing is simply too important.
Since last Thursday, the only comment from the Integrity Commission on Mr Christie’s “ask the government” response was that neither it nor Mr Christie was conveying any blame for the shooting on the Government.
Some people have accepted that, others have not. What is important, though, is for the commission to fully regain public trust.
The Commission may well have decided that it will not explore the possibility of having Mr. Christie resign. If that is so, I am hoping that he will emerge from this experience a better man and that the Commissioners have made it clear to him that his words and actions must be above reproach.