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Opposition to challenge move to change retirement age for DPP, AuG

The parliamentary Opposition is considering a constitutional challenge to the Government’s decision on Tuesday to “ram” through Parliament a bill to increase the retirement age of the director of public prosecutions (DPP) and the auditor general by five years.

“We will be taking legal advice on it with a view to challenge the decision in the constitutional court,” Opposition Leader Mark Golding said in Gordon House.

He added that the Opposition was also considering its continued participation on the Constitutional Reform Committee in light of the move.

With a majority vote of 39 ayes on the Government side and eight nays from the Opposition, the bill cleared the Lower House amid a chorus of dissent from the minority side.

The Constitution (Amendment of Sections 96(1) and 121(1)) Bill – which aims to increase the retirement age for the DPP and auditor general to 65 years – was introduced, debated and passed on the same day by the Government.

“It is bad governance. It is disrespectful to the Opposition. It is disrespectful to the Constitutional Reform Committee, and it was a dark day for our country that we would proceed this way on a matter of constitutional amendment,” Golding charged.

He argued that there are pending investigations by the Integrity Commission of parliamentarians for illicit enrichment.

The Integrity Commission stated in its annual report that there were six parliamentarians who were being investigated for illicit enrichment and seven others under the searchlight for allegedly providing false information to the anti- corruption body.

He said the director of corruption prosecution at the Integrity Commission may be asked to consider whether charges should be made at the end of the investigations.

However, Golding noted that the director of corruption prosecution was subject to the supervening authority of the DPP under the Constitution.

“The rush to make these amendments happen now in that context is also something that requires some explanation,” he said.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, who piloted the bill, said the constitutionally established ceiling for the age of retirement for the DPP and auditor general was five years earlier than the upper limit set in the Pensions (Public Service) Act for a public officer in the civil service.

But Golding expressed strong disapproval with how the Government has “rammed” the bill through Parliament without consultation with the Opposition.

He said that in relation to the provisions in the Constitution dealing with the DPP and auditor general, consultation with the opposition leader is required for appointment and extension of their time in office. He further suggested that the lack of consultation was a slap in the face of the Constitutional Reform Committee as they were also not apprised of the matter.

Chuck was at pains to explain that the amendment was in line with the Pensions (Public Service) Act, which was promulgated in 2017.

However, Golding said that the first attempt to provide a three-year extension to the tenure of the DPP was in 2019.

Golding said his predecessor, Dr Peter Phillips, objected “strongly in writing” to that extension, noting that there were substantive reasons why the Opposition did not support that extension at the time.

Julian Robinson, member of parliament for St Andrew South Eastern, argued that in Commonwealth jurisdictions and other countries around the globe, steps were being made to place auditors general on fixed-term arrangements. He cited countries such as the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia that have moved in that direction.

“We are moving against the grain in terms of what most of the world is doing in terms of fixed terms,” noted Robinson.

The Opposition MP cautioned that it was important that both the perception and the reality of independence and impartiality of the Office of the DPP be maintained.

“It cannot be right for the executive arm of the Government to be rushing through Parliament with no notice of an extension of the officeholder of the DPP. You are compromising the independence of the office by doing so,” he said.

Robinson contended that the perception “could arise that the incumbent, who is the beneficiary of this extension will be somehow beholden to the executive. It is absolutely wrong”.

Clarendon South Western Member of Parliament Lothan Cousins observed that the three-year extension given to the DPP would come to an end on September 21.

He asked whether the DPP had applied for her time to be further extended by way of a letter.

Neither Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte nor Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who were in Gordon House, participated in the debate.

Jamaicans for Justice Executive Director Mickel Jackson argued that the extension of the term of the DPP without consultation with the leader of the opposition seemed contrary to the principles of good governance and the spirit of the supreme law.

“Further, by going this route without consultation with the Constitutional Reform Committee, the Government has undermined the constitutional reform process and consensus building,” Jackson added.

editorial@gleanerjm.com