Opinion: Is Jamaica's Integrity Commission Playing Favorites With The Press?
If Jamaica’s Integrity Commission is supposed to monitor public sector integrity, then it must display integrity as an organization.
However, when it comes to the way in which the Commission publishes its summaries of the statutory declarations of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, its actions would leave anyone to wonder if it’s playing favorites with two media houses and causing news organizations like mine to play second fiddle.
In June of last year, I asked the Integrity Commission when it would publish the summaries of the Prime Minister’s and the Opposition Leader’s statutory declaration—the only two, by law, that are made public. I was assured by Executive Director Greg Christie that "Once the summaries of the subject annual declarations of assets, liabilities and income are ready for publication, all media representatives, as well as the country as a whole, will be advised through the requisite public channels." Note the reference to “all” media being notified when ready, not just some, and note also the term “requisite public channels”.
I wrote back on September 26, 2022 requesting an update since Opposition Leader Mark Golding, in a communication to me, had mentioned that the Commission would have been publishing his summary in September, and Mr. Christe wrote back with the same response from June, a few months earlier.
Now, I would have expected that, like most government organizations, the Integrity Commission would have issued a media release to all media. Instead, a few weeks after that exchange, I found out about the publication of the 2021 summary of Mr. Golding’s statutory declaration from a write-up in The Gleaner on Sunday, October 16, 2022 published at 12:11 a.m. 18º North wasn’t notified.
In response to my enquiry about how 18º North could have missed this despite multiple check-ins, Mr. Christie stated, “The complete Gazette was published by the Commission on its official Twitter Page, at @integrityJA, at 7.35am this morning - for her whole world to see! Today is also the same day that the Gleaner and the Observer first carried PAID and printed copies of the Gazette. It is also important for you to note that the Gazette, which is dated October 3, 2022, is also, by itself, as you are very much aware, a public document.” Note the date of the Gazette being October 3, and this was October 16. The Commission said the time lag was due to the process between when the summary was first approved and signed by the Chairman of the Commission to be published, being October 3, and the time it takes to publish the summary in the Gazette. Note also that The Gleaner had published more than seven hours prior to the tweet being sent out by the Commission on October. 16 at 7:35 a.m.
This early publication by The Gleaner was no doubt because those “PAID” ads were sent to the papers October 13, 2022, the date Mr. Christie had outlined to me as the date the ads were sent to be placed. It’s clear the advertising department was speaking to the editorial department in at least one of those media organizations, and so this lead time would have given the journalists at those media houses “scoops” and the ability to publish first at taxpayers’ expense.
Mr. Christie went on to explain that this is how it’s been done “for years”. (The summaries of the Prime Minister’s and Leader of the Opposition’s statutory declarations for 2018 and after were the only ones listed on the Commission’s website, indicating that the practice is about five years old.)
Same Thing Happened This Year
Fast forward to 2023, and despite my expressed displeasure in 2022, a similar thing happened again this year!
Even though I was in communication with the Integrity Commission on October 3, 2023 asking a question about Mr. Golding’s 2022 statutory declaration summary (which the Commission refused to answer because it stated it’s legislatively barred from speaking about any matter before it), I once again got wind of Mr. Golding’s 2022 summary from a write-up a few days later on Sunday, October 8, 2023 from The Gleaner. And this year, there was no publication on the Commission’s X page (formerly Twitter).
I asked the Integrity Commission again about the way the publication was handled and was referred to Section 42 (3) (b) of the Integrity Commission Act.
That section outlines that the summaries should be published in the “Gazette.” “However,” the Commission’s new communication officer Gillian Haughton, who got there in August and who has many years of experience working in communications in at least one other area of the public sector, went on to say, “to ensure that it is seen by as many members of the public as possible, it has been the practice of the IC to then publish the Gazette in Jamaica's two daily newspapers.”
This is hogwash!
We are long past the days of newspapers being the only means to communicate to the public. If the Integrity Commission was so interested in ensuring that the summaries are “seen by as many members of the public as possible”, why not publish, at no cost, the gazetted summaries on its website or on its X page first, so other media houses with audiences on the internet, social media, TV and radio can all get access to the information at the same time? Some people don’t even read the newspapers.
Instead, for Sunday, October 8, it chose to spend minimum J$90,0000 (US$580) to publish the information first in The Gleaner and The Observer, a bit of a slap in the face after assuring me, in the past, that once the summaries were ready, “all” media representatives would be advised through the requisite public channels. What it needed to have communicated was, "Once the summaries of the subject annual declarations of assets, liabilities and income are ready for publication, we will be spending your taxpayer money exclusively with two media houses, The Gleaner and The Observer, to initially advise the rest of the media and the rest of the public. We will then post them to our website.” Still unfair, but at least more honest! It was only on Monday, October 9, a day after The Gleaner published its story, and the full declaration summary was also simultaneously published as an advertisement both in The Gleaner and The Observer, that Mr. Christie had written to me that, as of that morning, the summary was now on the Commission’s website.
The Integrity Commission Can Change Course
This is the same Integrity Commission that recently began notifying the public via media release and the X platform when a report goes to parliament to be tabled because members of the public had expressed concern that the parliament may have been purposely holding up the release of the Commission’s investigations. This notification never used to happen until this year, but the Commission made a change, so clearly, the Commission can change despite its longstanding practices.
The Jamaica Printing Services is the entity responsible for the preparation of the Gazette notice. A rep there told me that they got the notification of Mr. Golding’s summary last week from the Commission on the 4th of October, a day after I was in touch with the Commission. The rep told me the Gazette notice was prepared and sent back to the Commission for approval that same day. I asked the rep when I could have gotten a copy and I was told when they get approval from the Commission, which the person said came the next day on Thursday, the 5th of October.
Now, if that timeline is correct, couldn’t the Commission have notified all of us on Friday, October 6 on its website and simultaneously, or afterwards, placed ads in the major papers “to ensure that it is seen by as many members of the public as possible” and simultaneously ensure equal access to the information among media houses?
Instead, it held onto the information, kept members of the public in the dark for a few days, and ensured that two media houses got first dibs. And then it published on its website for the rest of us plebs to see.
When I asked the Commission why the notification can’t first appear on its website and on X or be simultaneously published in the major papers, its response was “we believe an adequate response was provided in a previous email.” Part of that response was already printed above and included that, “Since last year, to ensure further transparency, the IC has established a link on its website for the permanent posting of all summaries. Summaries are, therefore, now permanently posted to that link, rather than notified via Twitter.”
But WHEN is it published on the Commission’s website, might I ask?? After it’s already made public in The Observer and The Gleaner???
Look, that response might sit well with the Integrity Commission. It doesn’t sit well with me. What the Commission is doing is unfair to media houses like mine….it’s unjust…. and it lacks integrity!
For the publication of statutory declaration summaries, the Commission should issue a release to all media houses at the same time, post them on its website and on its X page, and then if it wants, place ads in The Gleaner and Observer to reach those people who don’t get their information from the internet. The Commission now has a communications officer in place, so this is clearly not an issue of knowing what to do. It’s doing what it chooses to do, and what it’s doing when it publishes statutory declaration summaries needs more equity and needs to change!
Even As PNP Touts Opposition Leader's 'Consistent' Certification by Jamaica's Integrity Commission, Doubts Arise As To Whether Mark Golding Declared House In 2021 And Before. He Refuses To Say Definitively.
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