NOT pleased with what he referred to as being “muzzled”, controversial Member of Parliament (MP) Everald Warmington irately walked out of Parliament’s Integrity Commission (IC) Oversight Committee meeting on Tuesday morning.
He had again attempted to raise the question of the political affiliation of the IC’s director of corruption prevention, stakeholder engagement, and anti-corruption strategy Ryan Evans, as he had done in March at the last meeting of the oversight committee, insisting that he was only trying to get to the truth.
“How do you think Jamaicans would look at it when someone, who was politically connected, happens to be a director of corruption investigation? This department is tainted, certainly!” Warmington insisted at the previous meeting at which he and executive director of the IC Greg Christie had squared off.
But on Tuesday committee Chairman Edmund Bartlett would not have it, cutting Warmington off as he again alleged that Evans was previously employed to former Leader of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) Dr Peter Phillips in a political capacity as an advisor.
“First of all, I think that one of the things that we want to ensure is that we are not pejorative. We don’t make assumptions and we use this committee as a means of, as you say, ferret the truth but not in a manner also that would be disruptive and destructive to any individual in the process of so doing. I think that what we want to do is to enable everyone to feel that whatever comes out of this committee is going to be fair and just and that it will enure to the highest level of protection of the rights of everyone,” Bartlett said.
Warmington pressed on, stressing that he has a right to ask questions as any other member of the committee, and insisted that the chairman say why he wasn’t allowed that line of questioning then, or presently.
“You do have a right, but I’m trying to say, let’s make this meeting what we want, in fact, to do. This committee at this meeting is to receive the reports. I wish that we receive the reports and that we treat with them appropriately,” Bartlett said, noting that there were seven integrity reports to be dealt with by members.
“Let me finish, Mr Chairman. You can make a statement after…I have the same right as you do. I stated then that Mr Ryan Evans was political advisor to Dr Peter Phillips. I go further… he applied for a job in a senior position in the ministry and I know for a fact that the ministry did not employ him because of his political activity and involvement and, therefore, this is something that Jamaica needs to know, that a senior director at the Integrity Commission is a political activist,” he said.
Bartlett responded by saying that he refuses to have Warmington describe in any way any member who is not able to attend any sitting. To which Warmington retorted, “Why didn’t you allow him to answer then when he was there?” Bartlett said that, that matter will be dealt with at another level.
“No!” Warmington insisted. “If I can’t ask my question freely, and you want to muzzle me, you can keep your meeting by yourself, you want to muzzle me and your rulings are…without basis. You want to keep the truth from Jamaicans. I’m not going to be a part of anything that you’re trying to stifle the truth. Jamaica must know who we have dealing with these sensitive areas,” he said, as he got more agitated.
Bartlett answered calmly, pointing out that there is decorum and there is respect in all of these matters and he wishes that Warmington would preserve that.
“I asked the question very decently and in no raucous way, so don’t tell me about decorum and respect. I’m trying to get to the truth. Is that disrespect? It seems you want to encourage all form of things that are wrong and must not be exposed. I’m not going to be a party to anything that trample the truth that Jamaica should know. You can keep your committee by yourself,” he said before walking out.
As Warmington exited, Bartlett said that if members are disrespectful of him and the institution and they wish to take their leave of absence, “let it be, but I’m not going to be the chairman who condones any sort of behaviour of that type and I think we have had enough of it”.
Opposition committee member Julian Robinson praised the chairman on how he handled the situation.
“Chairman, let’s proceed with the agenda, please…that matter was raised, I think it was appropriately dealt with before. I think you have responded appropriately and I objected the last time the member raised it because you’re impugning somebody’s character and I don’t believe it is fair to do so,” he said.