Mr. Metry Seaga
(cc: Former Presidents: John Mahfood, Howard Mitchell, and Keith Duncan).
According to your self-statement, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), established in 1976, is a national organization of private associations, which seeks to influence national policy in political, social, and economic matters. This declaration of organizational personhood and purpose is instructive. By virtue of your stated objective of seeking to influence, you confirm that you operate with a worldview or ideology about how things ought to be and what things are important. Having a worldview is essential for the effective functioning of any organization and it is through those things which the organization pursues, seemingly ignores, and supports that others can infer what is the true personhood of the organization.
Discerning the PSOJ’s “personhood”
Over the last year your comments on some matters and silence on others have been instructive, and members of the public have commented on these. The same concerns have arisen within the last month. Your last public statements (according to your website) were on September 21, 2023, in which you condemned the violent attack on a director at the Integrity Commission, and in a separate statement expressed your “unwavering commitment to good governance amid ongoing Integrity Commission investigations”. A week earlier, on September 15, you issued a statement condemning the attack on Nationwide News Network’s offices.
All these statements are, in my opinion, laudable and welcome, but given your expressed “unwavering commitment to good governance” I find it shocking, inexplicable, and potentially descriptive of your personhood, that you have not commented on, perhaps, the single most critical governance issues facing Jamaica. These are (a) That the Prime Minister has not, as at the current date October 2, 2023, had his 2021 integrity declarations certified (as is required by law) and (b) That six lawmakers, one of whom could be the Prime Minister, are under investigation for illicit enrichment (also known as acquiring massive wealth by corrupt means).
Certification of Integrity Declarations
As you are aware, the certification and gazetting of the integrity declarations of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, are enshrined in law as a means of communicating to the country that the personal financial situation of these two public officials have been subject to rigorous scrutiny and have met the “test”. The certification says that there are no questions about origins and values of assets and claims of liability and that the declarants’ filings are “clean”.
If the financial statements of either the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition raise questions about origins and volume of wealth or nature and amount of liabilities, it could mean that there is adverse exposure and that the office holder (both of which are powerful or potentially powerful and control state resources and decision-making powers) is subject to shady and unknown forces.
This potential has major implications for our governance arrangements as, among other things, public policy could be made to facilitate the interests of unknown actors to the detriment of the public. That the PSOJ has taken a decision not to comment on this matter is troubling and mindboggling. From my conversations with senior personnel within the PSOJ, this is a matter the PSOJ does not wish to touch. Your silence on this matter raises questions about the authenticity of your claim to have an “unwavering commitment” to good governance.
“The illicit six”
The public now refers to the six lawmakers under investigation for illicit enrichment as “The illicit six”. The problems expounded above, in relation to the Prime Minister’s uncertified declarations, are the same here, except that they would increase sixfold (or fivefold – if the Prime Minister is among the six). What we have in our current governance reality is a situation in which lawmakers are presiding over matters which could affect the investigations concerning them. As you are aware, it is standard practice that if an office holder is under investigation (criminal or otherwise) that office holder is asked to step aside from office to ensure, and allow for, the smooth conduct of the investigation. I am sure you would agree that the same must apply here, but especially that it involves the country’s democracy.
The contentious gag clause
The Integrity Commission Act prohibits the disclosure of information on ongoing investigations. The existence of this provision in the Act means that the Integrity Commission may not, lawfully, publicise the names of persons who are the subject of investigation. This provision is inimical to the objectives of good governance as, among other things, it serves to protect subjects who may, even while being investigated take steps to undermine the investigation.
My call to the PSOJ
I am urging the PSOJ to seriously consider the meaning of its professed “unwavering commitment” to the principles of good governance, for if it does so, I believe (and hope) that it will find that it has not been either sufficiently committed or unwavering. But whatever its self-assessment, I urge you to consider whether your silence on the PM’s uncertified integrity declarations and the ability of the illicit six to continue making laws and allocate resources which could affect the investigations into their conduct, serves the ends of good governance.
The Prime Minister claimed on May 22, 2023, that he does not know what is causing the Integrity Commission to not certify his declarations. This claim is, in my view, as naïve as it is misleading and should not have been allowed to stand. I am, therefore, calling on the PSOJ to:
- Call on the Prime Minister to publish the communications between himself and the Integrity Commission concerning his uncertified declarations for 2021.
- Join the call for the repealing of the Gag Clause [Sec 53 (3)] of the Integrity Commission Act, (this repealing can be done within a week – passed on Tuesday in the Lower House, passed the following Friday in the Upper House, and proclaimed by the Governor General the following Monday).
- Urge the illicit six to identify themselves and then step aside from all assignments – whether parliamentary committees or cabinet, or both.
I contend that by making these calls, the PSOJ will surely show that it is truly committed, unwaveringly, to good governance.
Canute Thompson is Professor of Educational Policy, Planning and Leadership and the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, a social activist, and author of eight books and eighteen journal articles. His academic achievements include:
- Two Principal’s Awards in 2023 for research activity generating the most funds, and research activity with the most development impacts, serving as Project Director for a project executed by the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning.
- A 2022 Bronze place winner in the Independent Publisher Book Awards for his book, Education and Development: Policy Imperatives for Jamaica and the Caribbean.
- A 2021 finalist in The Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence for all-round excellent performance in Outstanding Teaching, Outstanding Research Accomplishments, Outstanding Service to the University Community, Outstanding Public Service.
- A 2021 Principal’s Award for Most Outstanding Researcher.
- Two Principal’s Awards in 2020 for Most Outstanding Researcher and Best Publication for his book, Reimagining Educational Leadership in the Caribbean.