Ex-Integrity Commission head complains about DPP: ‘No help to charge public officials’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former Integrity Commission chairman Prof Rajendra Ramlogan –

INTEGRITY Commission former chairman Prof Rajendra Ramlogan has accused the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) of dragging its feet on providing help with the criminal prosecution of public officials for defying court orders to file their annual declarations of assets under the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA).

The 36th Annual Report of the Integrity Commission (2023) was laid in Parliament last Friday. It includes a chairman’s report titled: A journey of pain and promise.

On Sunday, Newsday called DPP Roger Gaspard’s cellphone and sent questions via WhatsApp.

He replied via WhatsApp, “This isn’t something that I can adequately respond to in a text. Good afternoon.”

Ramlogan’s message was that despite obstacles, including constraints of staff and funding, the commission had persuaded more public officials to comply with the Integrity Act than past commissions. However, he lamented verbal abuse to commission staff from “a small minority” of public officials.

He said the commission’s role under IPLA was handling the filing of (confidential) declarations of income, assets and liabilities and (public) statements of registrable interests and investigating complaints of misconduct by people in public life.

Ramlogan said evidence suggested that past public cynicism about the commission was justified.

“Therefore, doing nothing was not an option. Laws are not meant to be reproduced on paper with only cosmetic attempts at enforcement.”

He said taxpayer-funded institutions like the commission must account for their stewardship in executing their statutory mandate.

“The 17th commission was not prepared to go through the motion of work with little regard for the adverse impact on our present and future.”

He quoted US civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jnr saying change never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability but only comes by continuous struggle.

Ramlogan related, “The first year was one of pain.

“Relentless and vitriolic attacks on different media forms, printed and social. A convenient conduit for those afraid of change.

“While as chairman, I was the target of the personal vilification, the commission made it clear in a media release that the transformation was a unanimous undertaking.”

He said the journey to execute the filing of declarations and statements “has been a turbulent one.

“Persons in public life have had decades of non-compliance to enjoy, and change came at times with rancour.”

Ramlogan said non-compliance has been a major area of public concern.

“Up to the end of 2020, it was estimated that there were almost 3,000 declarations of income, assets and liabilities and statements of registrable interests outstanding for the years 2014-2019.”

The act says if anyone fails to file a declaration or statement without reasonable cause, the commission shall publish this fact in the TT Gazette and a daily newspaper. The act (section 11) then lets the commission “make an ex-parte application to the High Court for an order directing such person to comply with the act.”

Someone disregarding the court’s order commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of $150,000, the section added.

In terms of enforcement, Ramlogan noted some 109 cases in 2018-2020 in which applications for court orders were sought, while in 2021-2023, this leapt to 3,312.

A table in the chairman’s report on the number of year-end filings (for individuals’ details of the previous year) rose dramatically from 45 per cent filing in 2018 to 70 per cent in 2022. Ramlogan boasted of “record filing.”

Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, SC. –

He said, “The compliance unit has also entered (uncharted) territory by trying to initiate criminal proceedings against persons in public life who have failed to file their declarations of income, assets and liabilities and statements of registrable interests after being subjected to successful ex parte proceedings compelling them to do so.”

He noted the Integrity Act said most prosecutions for an offence under the act needed the DPP’s written consent.

“As a consequence of the launch of its aggressive program(me) to ensure compliance with the ex-parte orders granted by the court, the commission wrote to the DPP by letters dated September 13, 2021, and November 22, 2021, requesting a meeting to chart a way forward.”

He said the commission sought the DPP’s help to develop a policy to prosecute matters under the act.

“A first meeting was held on August 30, 2022, with the deputy DPP but led to no positive result.”

Finally, the commission met the DPP on April 4, 2023, and was told the police must prepare the prosecutions and send these to the DPP for consent before taking any action.

“The commission worked diligently with both officers of the Anti-Corruption Unit and members of the Fraud Squad to present a file to the DPP in a prosecutable form in November 2023.

“To date, there is no further response from the DPP. This is after two years of diligently reaching out to the DPP.

“As a result, on December 28, 2023, the commission decided to pursue in civil court contempt proceedings against persons failing to comply with ex-parte orders.”

Ramlogan noted that Jamaica’s integrity legislation establishes an official, the Director of Corruption Prosecutions, so prosecutions do not need the DPP’s input.

He related many other challenges, largely in resourcing. Ramlogan described the poorly funded commission as having to fend for itself against “relentless letters” from senior counsel representing public officials.

He called for commission staff to be given long-term contracts, not the current short-term contracts, to make a career at the commission more attractive.

Ramlogan said the current average age of an investigator at the commission is now 29, down from 67 previously. The average age of staff in the compliance unit is 33, compared to 50 previously. He lamented that most successful prosecutions of TT corruption over the decades had occurred in foreign courts.

Corruption robs the nation’s children of their birthright, he complained.

He had several recommendations.

Firstly, Ramlogan said judges and magistrates should be excluded from the act.

However, he urged that people exercising a public function should be expanded to include officials in “all statutory bodies and state enterprises including those bodies in which the State has a controlling interest.”

He suggested sanctions against anyone breaking the act’s code of conduct for public officials.

Ramlogan urged legal protection for whistle-blowers under this act.

He wanted the commission to be able to refer offences to the DPP which it discovers in an investigation perpetrated by individuals not under the act’s remit.

Ramlogan queried the commission’s procedure.

“The registrar…is given the power to ‘permit’ the inspection of the register after a formal request by a member of the public, but this has the effect of blunting the accessibility and the transparency of the register.

“This becomes more glaring when one considers that the Register of Interests in Australia and the United Kingdom are available for viewing on Parliament websites. No applications are needed.”

Ramlogan urged that an official’s declaration and statement also include “any gifts received by way of office, social obligation or in their personal capacity.”