by Linda Straker
- Integrity Commission to question public services under oath
- Part of financial wrongdoings and corrupt practices investigation of MNIB
- Other government departments also under investigation
Public servants including Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell are among potential witnesses expected to testify under oath in a financial wrongdoings and corrupt practices investigation that is being spearheaded by the Office of Integrity Commission into the Marketing and National Importing Board (MNIB).
“Question under oath is coming. They (the Integrity Commission) sought to have resources from us, and we were positive to that. They may call me too, but as I say I am prepared to be called to give an idea of my knowledge and information,” Dr Mitchell told the media during a weekly post-cabinet briefing held on Wednesday when asked to provide an update on the investigation announced in July.
As a state-owned enterprise, the MNIB falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance for which Dr Mitchell is the minister. The commission was established to ensure that public officials uphold high standards of integrity in the performance of their public functions and to give effect to the provisions of The Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. It will assist in improving the standards of good governance, transparency and accountability in government.
The law provides for the Integrity Commission to receive and verify the accuracy of declarations of financial affairs from public officials; to investigate complaints of impropriety, corruption and misconduct by public officials; and for the prosecution of persons found guilty of crimes according to the acts.
On 31 July 2018 during a news conference, Dr Mitchell disclosed that cabinet endorsed a recommendation for a thorough investigation. The decision comes against the backdrop of recent revelations about the possible inappropriate use of MNIB funds.
Back then, the Prime Minister acknowledged that a lot had gone wrong at the MNIB. A new board of directors was appointed following the 13 March 2018 General Elections, and it was the new members who realised that there were financial wrongdoings. Shortly after their appointment, then CEO Ruel Edwards left his job for a new post within the Ministry of Economic Development.
Edwards has since been placed on leave by the Public Service Commission, the body that contracted him to the new post.
In early September a news release from the Integrity Commission said that further to media reports and statements circulating about financial wrongdoings at the MNIB, the Integrity Commission, on its own initiative, commenced investigations into the current and past affairs at the board, from early August 2018.
The commission then confirmed that preliminary information was requested in pursuant to section 12 (1) (f) of the Integrity in Public Life Act, to inform the commission’s investigation.
That section of the legislation provides for the functions of the commission, and “f” clearly states that it shall: Examine the practices and procedures of Public Bodies.
“Further to section 12 (2) (b) of the Integrity in Public Life Act, the Commission has commenced collaboration with its external stakeholders, and consultants, as it progresses the Investigation and Inquiry into the state of affairs at the MNIB,” the release stated.
That section of the law says that in the exercise of the function, “the Commission may in all cases where it considers it appropriate to do so, make use of the services or draw on the expertise of any law enforcement agency or the public service.”
The commission is also utilising section 13 of the Integrity in Public Life Act, which explains the powers and function of the commission. It says that the commission shall have the same powers, rights and privileges as a commission of inquiry appointed pursuant to the provision of the Commission of Inquiry Act.
Dr Mitchell said that cabinet will endorse the commission investigation and will accept its findings. He disclosed on Wednesday that the investigation according to the commission would be led by “outside legal personnel” who will be on special assignment with the commission and as a result, more funds have been allocated to ensure that the investigation thoroughly explored all allegations of wrongdoing.
He disclosed that other government departments are also under investigation by the commission: the Customs Department, the Ministry of Works, and the hospital services.
“We have to be honest with ourselves, those who don’t want to admit it that is their business…if we want to say there are not corrupt practice within the public service, the could say so, I know there is corruption in every single department of government, that is a fact, it may be at different levels,” he said.