Debate on legislation to establish an independent body to fight organised crime in Jamaica, including detecting and investigating crime kingpins and persons who facilitate their activities, started on Tuesday (October 3) in the House of Representatives.
Minister of National Security, Hon. Robert Montague, piloted the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) Act, aimed at transforming the body into an elite law-enforcement investigative agency, operating autonomously of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
Mr. Montague said MOCA has contributed significantly to the investigation and prosecution of serious crimes.
He noted that MOCA’s success is due largely to collaboration with law-enforcement agencies, such as the JCF and Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and related entities such as the Financial Investigations Division, Jamaica Customs Department, Revenue Protection Division and Taxpayer Audit and Assessments Department.
“Of note is the invaluable role MOCA has played in bringing lotto scammers before the courts. In fact, during the period August 2014 to December 2016, MOCA aided in securing 132 convictions,” Mr. Montague said.
The Security Minister noted that organised crime and corruption is a significant threat to the island’s economic stability and sustainable development prospects due to its pervasive and covert nature.
He stated that organised crime also has the ability to undermine government structures by corrupting government officials and threatening law and order.
“The nature of organised crime, therefore, requires sustained, focused, strong investigations and dedicated resources over long periods of time to eliminate this threat. It is against this backdrop that this Bill establishes ‘a new MOCA’ as an independent law-enforcement agency,” the Security Minister said.
He explained that the new MOCA will have the ability to dedicate the time, and will be given the resources required to conduct intelligence-led investigations to identify the bosses of organised crime and their facilitators, seize their assets and secure convictions.
Clause 6 of the Act outlines the functions of the Agency. In addition to investigative and prosecutorial duties related to serious crimes, it will also receive complaints in relation to alleged or suspected acts involving serious crime; gather, store, process, analyse and disseminate information that is relevant to activities to combat serious crime; and carry out counterterrorism functions as may be conferred on the Agency by the Minister.
Clause 7 of the Act requires a distinction between the Agency’s investigative and prosecutorial functions by preventing the same individual from carrying out both tasks. This, Mr. Montague said is critical to ensuring the Agency’s prosecutorial independence and integrity.
Clause 9 mandates MOCA to cooperate with its strategic partners and other law-enforcement agencies. Similarly, these law-enforcement agencies are required to cooperate with MOCA.
The arrangements for the administration of the Agency are set out in Part III of the Bill in Clauses 12-21.
This includes the post of Director General, who will be the administrative head of the Agency and will be appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Minister, subject to the approval of the Prime Minister and after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition.
Clause 15 reinforces the ultimate responsibility of the Director General and sets out the parameters within which the functions of the Director General may be delegated to another officer of the Agency.
Clause 21 imposes on all employees of the Agency an obligation of secrecy, in relation to the documents and records of the Agency. This clause also requires all employees to take an oath of office.
Clauses 32-36 establish the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency Oversight Committee, which the Minister said is deemed critical to ensuring accountability to the Jamaican populace on the part of the Agency and its officers.
“Critically, the Director General is not exempt from the reach of the Oversight Committee. In so doing, we are demonstrating to the public that the powers accorded to MOCA and its officers are not unfettered, and there will be consequences for breaches of the rights of Jamaicans,” Mr. Montague said.
He noted that, over time, MOCA is expected to break the power of major criminals, eliminate the influence of facilitators and eradicate the pervasive corruption that allows criminality to flourish.
For his part, Opposition Spokesperson on Industry, Investment and Competitiveness and former Minister of National Security, Peter Bunting, welcomed the legislation, noting that MOCA as a permanent statutory entity will attract even more support from international partners.