EDITORIAL: Did he really say that?

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We thought that the Asot Michael affair reached the zenith of strangeness when the Integrity Commission released its last press release. That was not too long ago, but having seen the latest release, we must admit that we were wrong.  The strangeness of this situation has mushroomed with the Integrity Commission Chairman, Radford Hill, now saying that money is no longer a problem, but since no one has complained about anything, the Commission’s hands are tied.
Apparently, if no one complains about a breach of integrity in public life, the integrity commissioners are simply spectators. They cannot initiate an investigation, no matter the amount of information in the public consciousness.  It also does not matter that the public may be seeking some comfort that there has been no wrongdoing. If some brave soul does not step forward and make a complaint, the Commission does nothing.  It is no wonder that the Commission has been getting by with half a secretary.
Before we get accused of misquoting Mr. Hill, let’s have a look at this integrity flip-flop, and the unsigned and undated press release which we will again post on antiguaobserver.com.  Hill acknowledges that the Integrity Commission “had determined that there were grounds for an investigation under Section 12(1)(b) of the Integrity in Public Life Act 2004.”  Now, he says that the very section quoted has been re-interpreted by legal counsel and the Commission must first receive a complaint before it investigates. Wait?  Isn’t Mr. Hill a lawyer?  Wasn’t he a former Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs?  Doesn’t he fulfill the requirement of Section 4.3 of The Integrity in Public Life Act, 4004, which requires that “The members of the Commission shall be persons of integrity one of whom is a lawyer who has practiced law in the Commonwealth for no less than ten years?”   
How can Mr. Hill say that he required legal counsel to re-interpret the section of law which he already interpreted and which he and his fellow commissioners were relying on to launch an investigation? Not only that, the Integrity Commissioner is now quoting section 12(1)(b) and (d) and labeling them as being the handcuffs placed on the Commission because they must be “read together and in context.” Apparently, the initial option of the widely experienced Mr. Hill has been rubbished and the newly acquired legal counsel has told them that “the Commission cannot determine that there are grounds for an investigation in a vacuum but only in the presence of a complaint properly received by the Commission in accordance with section 22 of the Integrity in Public Life Act 2004.”
Essentially, Mr. Hill has thrown himself and his legal opinions under the bus.  He has deferred to this yet-to-be-identified legal expert and will not be launching an investigation because the Commission has not received a formal complaint.   And if anyone is thinking that you can just go ahead and file a complaint based on the publicly available information, think again.  The Commission is making it known that “Part IV of the Integrity in Public Life Act 2004 … makes extensive provision as to how a complaint is to be lodged and how an investigation is to be conducted … among other things, [it] dictates that a complaint to the Commission cannot be vague and in general terms.”  
How not vague?  Well, in a word, the burden placed on the person filing the complaint is tremendous.  The complaint “must give substantial particulars, including (1) the period within which there was the commission of an alleged breach of the Integrity in Public Life Act 2004 or the Prevention of Corruption Act 2004 and (2) the names and addresses of persons involved in the commission of the breach. Further, the person making the complaint is mandated … to provide evidence to support the complaint including documentary evidence and must provide a sworn statement.”  Basically, the person must investigate the integrity breaches, gather the evidence and submit it under a sworn statement to the Integrity Commission before they do whatever it is they do from there. 
We understand that the law is the law, but these onerous rules for engagement lead to the obvious questions: why do we need the Integrity Commission, and what function does it perform?  If the hurdles to get the Commission to act are as described, is there any reasonable expectation that anyone, beyond the police, can file a sworn complaint with the criminal and evidence details listed in the law?  Really, who can meet the criteria set out in the law to get a complaint lodged?
So while Commissioner Hill boasts that the government stands at the ready to fund an investigation, he also says, in the same breath, that “the Commission is unable to proceed with an investigation into that matter.”  Only in Antigua, folks!
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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