Jamaica
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An ‘undesirable’ approach

Former Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips says the circumstance under which the Government is pushing to amend legislation to increase the retirement age for the director of public prosecutions (DPP) and the auditor general is “undesirable” and will likely attract scrutiny.

The Government tabled, debated, and passed the Constitution (Amendment of Sections 96(1) and 121(1)) Act, 2023, in the Lower House on Tuesday. It is now headed for the Upper House on Friday.

Phillips, who was the leader of the Opposition in 2020, wrote to Prime Minister Andrew Holness objecting to a three-year extension of DPP Paula Llewellyn’s tenure, alleging a “poor track record” on corruption prosecution.

He accepted that the position of the Government could be easily understood in terms of bringing the retirement age of the offices in line with the now-standard practice for the judiciary and other similarly located public officials but noted that things would have been better if there had been proper notice and consultation with the Opposition beforehand.

“It would have made the public more easily acceptant on all sides that there was no particular ulterior motive in moving in this direction with such an unseemly speed without what ought to be the standard level of parliamentary consultation and participation on matters requiring constitutional amendment,” Phillips said in a Gleaner interview on Wednesday.

“To tamper with the supreme law of the country in this unseemly way certainly does not augur well for either governance procedures generally or for the current process of constitutional reform,” said Phillips, who has been the member of parliament for St Andrew East Central for 29 years.

The opposition legislator said that against the backdrop that the country has not performed well in the maintenance of high anti-corruption standards and is far removed from a low-crime zone, settling the status of the office of the DPP in a “hasty fashion” will lead to widespread speculation.

“None of it [is] helpful or healthy,” he said.

Phillips said that given the country’s failure to get on top of the twin issues of crime and corruption, the matter should not have been dealt with in a manner that indicated that it did not warrant a serious discussion.

When contacted by The Gleaner, Llewellyn declined to comment.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck earlier on Wednesday said that the Government’s decision to amend the act was recommended years ago by the pension fund committee.

Strong resistance

Chuck, who piloted the bill through the House of Representatives on Tuesday amid strong resistance from the parliamentary Opposition, doubled down on the decision during a post-Cabinet press briefing.

The amendment is to move the age of retirement from 60 to 65 for the holders of both offices to “benefit from the increased retirement age”, he said.

“Unfortunately, the matter sat in the Ministry of Finance, but only in recent time, Cabinet directed – and to be fair, the minister of finance looked at it and said this is a constitutional matter – the minister of justice [to] do it. Cabinet mandated that I should take it,” said Chuck.

He said that he then pushed to get it done “immediately”.

The Opposition signalled that it is considering a constitutional challenge to the Government’s decision to “ram” the bill through Parliament.

Opposition Leader Mark Golding also disclosed that he had not been consulted on the matter.

“I’m very disappointed that the Opposition and others should impute any motive why this amendment was done so quickly. It has been on the cards since 2016-2017,” Chuck said.

He said suggestions by Golding in Parliament that the incumbent, Llewellyn, could overrule decisions by the Integrity Commission’s director of corruption prosecution and specifically intervene in the pending matter of six politicians being investigated for illicit enrichment are “unfair and unbecoming”.

The justice minister argued that Llewellyn, who was granted the extension in 2020, has exercised “integrity and commitment to her work” during her tenure.

Asked why the decision to amend the act was not taken in 2020, Chuck said that the finance ministry did begin consultation on the process.

He said that the bill for amendment that he brought to Parliament was the work of the finance ministry.

Chuck added that Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke “got too busy” over the last two years, and when the issue “finally” got to his attention, he took it to Cabinet.

kimone.francis@gleanerjm.com