In Parliament last week Tuesday (January 30, 2018), during the discussion about extending the period of Public Emergency in St James, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Peter Phillips both commented on the functioning of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). Their comments fit into an ongoing narrative that paints INDECOM as not being “balanced” in its approach and acting in a way that demoralizes the members of the security forces it is mandated to investigate.
Dr Phillips: I’d like to end by also offering our commendations to the security forces for, not only in this area in St James but generally, the rank and file for the most part and the officers for the most part have conducted themselves with commendable efficiency in very difficult circumstances and they are to be commended. And I think even as they go, not only there but in the other areas of the country, while we urge them to obey the law, I want to urge those who investigate them, including INDECOM, to be mindful of the circumstances in which they operate. If I can be blunt, if INDECOM has a problem with the members of the security forces, I don’t think they should disarm them in public in full view of the citizens. I think that that unnecessarily demoralizes the men and women who are urged to obey the law, but who operate in what is a very dangerous situation on the street. There is literally a war that has been declared on society and in that circumstances you cannot weaken those who serve in the face of those who attack them.
In responding to Dr Phillips, PM Holness said:
You mentioned INDECOM. We take the view that there really needs to be balance in how INDECOM operates. I’ve decided not to go any further with my comments on INDECOM. I think this House, which created the institution, which still retains the power, at some point…I suspect it would have to be sooner than later…we will have to take some decisions…to ensure that that very important institution operates with balance.
(A video recording of the session in Parliament is available here. Dr Phillips’ comment begins at 1:11:59 & PM Holness’ comment begins at 1:37:00.)
The following day, INDECOM issued two press releases in response to the comments in Parliament. In the first, the Commission refuted Dr Phillips’ assertion:
In the second, INDECOM shared Commissioner Williams’ letter to Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, requesting an opportunity to be informed of the perceived problems and to respond:
Dear Minister Chuck,
Re: Remarks in Parliament on INDECOM
Reference is made to the captioned.
On the 30th instant, remarks were made in Parliament that INDECOM needed “balance” in its work and that INDECOM’s investigators were disarming police officers in public spaces.
As a Commission of Parliament, INDECOM is obligated to make reports to Parliament on matters of concern. We do not know what claims advised the assertion that our work lacks balance and would appreciate an opportunity to be so advised and to respond. As misinformation must not be permitted to direct policy.
The remark about disarming of police officers ia an example of misinformation. This was raised by the Police Federation during the Joint Select Committee’s Review of the INDECOM Act. We were able to debunk this claim. The position remains that police officers are disarmed by their colleagues and this is done at the police station. A 2014 JCF Force Order published the agreed protocol between the JCF in this regard.
Given your statutory remit to serve as the liason between INDECOM and Parliament, INDECOM seeks your kind intervention in this matter to permit us to be aware of assertions being made and to answer them.
INDEPENDENT COMMISSION OF INVESTIGATIONS
Terrence F Williams
This is not the first occasion on which PM Holness has spoken about INDECOM needing to be more “balanced” in its approach or for the need to review or make changes to the INDECOM Act. It is unfortunate and unhelpful, however, that the Prime Minister hasn’t been more specific in making clear exactly what he means by “balance/balanced” or what aspects of the Act he thinks need further review or need to be changed. His repeated references without specificity encourage speculation, limit INDECOM’s ability to respond and may have the effect of eroding confidence in the workings of the Commission.
Review of the INDECOM Act
Section 37 of the INDECOM Act, which came into effect in 2010, requires periodic reviews of the Act, the first to take place no later than three years after the Act came into effect.
In 2013, a Joint Select Committee (JSC) was established to review the Act; it began its examination on June 27, 2013, held 23 meetings, concluded its report in October 2015 and the report was tabled in Parliament in November 2015.
A copy of the report is available here: Joint Select Committee Report on INDECOM Act. What has happened to the report since it was submitted to Parliament? Which of the JSC’s recommendations have been accepted or rejected? What amendments to the Act are to be tabled in Parliament? More than two years after the report was submitted, it would be reasonable for the public to have some official word via Parliament.
A September 29, 2016 Jamaica Information Service (JIS) release titled “Cabinet Looking at Report on INDECOM” included the following reference to a statement made by National Security Minister Robert Montague:
Last year there was a report in the media that Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck had indicated there had been some movement regarding Cabinet’s consideration of the JSC recommendations, but there has still not been any action in Parliament regarding the report and its recommendations.
And this is part of what makes the comments in Parliament last week by the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister so remiss. Parliament passed a law establishing INDECOM, a Commission of Parliament (2010). That law passed by Parliament required a review of the law not more than three years after passage. Parliament established a Joint Select Committee of both House to conduct that review (2013). That Committee of Parliament held meetings over two years and produced a report containing its recommendations. That report was tabled in Parliament (2015). More than two years later, there has been no further action in Parliament regarding that report and its recommendations (2018). Yet the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition found it appropriate to make the comments they did in Parliament.
The Prime Minister did say “I think this House, which created the institution, which still retains the power, at some point…I suspect it would have to be sooner than later…we will have to take some decisions….” Yes, I would suggest that Parliament – that Parliamentarians – take some action, make some decisions. The current situation really makes a mockery of Parliament’s own processes.