Wed | Feb 19, 2020

Editorial | If Greg Christie can break loose

Published:Friday | February 14, 2020 | 12:28 AM

Whether it was of its own volition, or nudged by the Holness administration, the Integrity Commission’s appointment of Greg Christie to be its executive director was an inspired move. At the same time, no one should expect that, in his new position, Mr Christie will have the expansive authority he enjoyed as contractor general, unless he appropriates unto himself, or the commissioners allow him an expanded space within which to roam. We hope for the latter.

The snagging of Mr Christie is propitious on two important fronts. Most immediately, it suggests that the commission is about to rouse itself from what is perceived as a state of somnolent turgidity and, more important, that Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his government are ready to move to a new phase of shoring up the narrative against public corruption with aggressive action.

For the public image of Greg Christie is one of a man of action. It is a reputation that is not undeserved.

The post of contractor general was around since the mid 1980s, with the holder authorised, by law, to monitor the award and execution of government contracts, as well as to investigate complaints that the procurement process may have been tainted, including by kickback and graft. A number of bright and talented individuals held the post, annually producing earnest reports on the failings of bureaucrats, and sometimes even special ones on seeming blatant disregard for the rules.

Christie’s aggression

However, Mr Christie’s arrival in the early 2000s changed the tone and texture of the office. He was loud and aggressive, readily informing the public of investigations he initiated, of the agencies, and the managers, who failed to meet deadlines for the filing of reports on the award, and status, of government contracts. He complained, too, about what he believed to be inattentiveness on the part of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to corruption-related cases. Moreover, the language of his reports was often biting.

Put another way, in some quarters, Mr Christie was seen to be abrasive and engaged in overreach. By the time he was succeeded by Dirk Harrison in 2013, the nature of the office had changed. What Mr Christie is coming back to, though, is not the office he left nearly eight years ago. For the past two years, his old office has been subsumed into a new Integrity Commission, in which lie the old bodies to which legislators and public servants, separately, reported their annual income, assets, and liabilities statements.

Essentially, notwithstanding Section 29 (1) of the Integrity Commission Act, which makes the executive director “responsible for the day-to-day management of the affairs of the office”, the job, fundamentally, is that of chief operating officers (COO). He acts as a bridge between the five commissioners, who have executive authority, and the several heads of divisions, who, but for when the commissioners intervene, operate with a substantial autonomy.

However, if Mr Christie’s essential energy and transparency don’t collide with the cautiousness and conservatism associated with the current commissioners, including the chairman, Seymour Panton, he could help to change public perception of the organisation. He might start by quickly filling the many outstanding posts at the organisation, including those in which the incumbents are acting. He is also likely to more openly agitate for a parliamentary review of the legislation, to fix problems with the law, some which were identified by the commission. These include the clause preventing the commission from announcing the opening of an investigation, or commenting on it until the probe is complete and a report has been tabled in Parliament. That restriction was directed against the Christie effect.

There are also other substantial things that Mr Christie can do, such as bringing a sense of urgency to education campaigns, as well as conducting surveys on the cost of corruption to the economy, with which Parliament tasked the commission.