EDITORIAL - Welcome, Felice, but agency review necessary

Published: Sunday | August 5, 2012 Comments 0

Justin Felice's appointment as head of the Financial Investigation Division (FID) is, of itself, a welcome development. But it also provides an opportunity for serious analysis of the regime for investigating financial crimes, including whether the present structure is efficient and if Jamaica is getting the best value from the available resources.

With regard to Mr Felice, one of the British 'imports' who were recruited to strengthen the capabilities of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), this newspaper is on record in praising his contribution to the police.

In his five years as head of the organisation's Anti-Corruption Branch, Mr Felice, who held a similar position in Northern Ireland, has cracked the sense of impunity in the JCF.

Far more of its members than would have previously thought possible have been prosecuted for bribery and other corrupt behaviour. In many cases, where sound intelligence many not have translated into prosecutable evidence, the contracts of officers were not renewed. What was important about Mr Felice's tenure, too, was that anti-corruption initiatives were not against junior members only. Senior cops were not immune.

We expect that he will bring the same integrity, professionalism and vast experience to the FID - an agency that probes money laundering and related financial crimes, as well as manages efforts to recover assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act. No one ought to feel - and we believe no one will be - protected by status or associations.

Overlapping responsibilities

But in as much as we appreciate the past efforts, and the potential of the FID for tackling Jamaica's serious problem of corruption, we wonder whether the several discrete agencies, with seeming overlapping responsibilities, make sense.

Apart from the FID, we, most immediately, have in mind the Revenue Protection Division (RPD), headed by Major Johanna Lewin and charged with tracking and preventing fraud on the government revenues, specifically Tax Administration Jamaica and Jamaica Customs.

Curiously, the FID and the RPD fall under the finance ministry and not the national security ministry. Although the RPD is the older of the two, it was for a time subsumed into the FID until its separation four years ago.

On the face of it, the roles of these two agencies, which are part of the same ministry, reporting to the same financial secretary, converge, requiring the same or similar skills and talents. From our vantage point, these would be better rationalised within the same bureau, with far greater efficacy than the inter-agency Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force.

Maybe the time is ripe for a rethink of the existing institutional arrangements. The FID and RPD remain in the finance ministry, standing separately from the JCF, because the constabulary, despite improvements in recent years, is still a distrusted organisation, perceived to be incapable of sophisticated investigations. Such perceptions may be unfair, but will take time to change.

The problems, however, are immediate. In the circumstances, a combined FID/RPD, with full police powers, staffed by appropriate professionals and young lawyers - there are many jobless legal and accounting graduates - would probably make sense.

In all probability, such an agency would not only find international support, but pay for itself in the revenue it saves the Government.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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