It had been another day of thunder and rain in Jamaica's capital, a common occurrence during hurricane season, but this time, the turbulence was not restricted to the weather. Just after 11 a.m. on Thursday, September 20, Ryan Evans, director of corruption prevention at the parliamentary Integrity Commission (IC), was shot and injured in a parking lot near his office in New Kingston. His briefcase was stolen by the two attackers.
Police swiftly stated that their preliminary investigations suggested the incident was a robbery. Since Evans had just withdrawn a large sum of money from a bank at another location, they theorised he had been followed. The victim was hospitalised for his injuries, which were reportedly not serious, while investigations continued.
On X (formerly Twitter), one Jamaican shared:
The Govt and Opp better come out against this strong strong 😒 https://t.co/LOTIDIM52n
— Uptown Natty (@LolaluvBeach) September 21, 2023
Her post alluded to the fact that the IC has been a political hot potato in recent months, with public controversy escalating on February 14, after a report from the commission that was tabled in parliament noted it had referred for prosecution a potential conflict of interest issue connected to Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
Two days later, as considerable confusion and anger raged — one media house accused the IC's Executive Director Greg Christie of having “an insatiable appetite for media attention” — the Commission sought to explain that it had acted within the law, while noting that the prime minister would not, in fact, be charged. Still, many felt that the damage to the organisation's reputation, and that of Jamaica, had already been done.
At the time, an editorial in the Gleaner newspaper warned against possible efforts to weaken the anti-corruption entity:
Jamaicans should be vigilant against an emerging political coalition at Gordon House [Houses of Parliament] to defang the Integrity Commission (IC), thus making it useless against marauding public officials.
The first step in the IC’s weakening, it seems, is a cross-party, hyena-style encirclement, probing at every scab, real or perceived.
Verbal attacks on the IC from government parliamentarians, at times under the protection of parliamentary privilege, had reached the point where the prime minister felt obliged to make a statement on June 14.
At a meeting in March of the parliamentary oversight committee examining the Integrity Commission Act, one government member had singled out the IC official who had been shot as being politically aligned to the country's opposition, accusing the IC of being “tainted.” Prime Minister Holness, however, sought to rein in outspoken members of his party:
I would say to every Member that we should not engage in a political ‘cass cass’ because that is how it is emerging between the Parliament and a body that reports to the Parliament. […] Madam Speaker, we should avoid that at all costs.
In a tweet posted just an hour after the attack, the prime minister had swiftly condemned the shooting:
I must unequivocally condemn the appalling act of violence against a Director of the Integrity Commission that occurred earlier this morning (September 21, 2023). pic.twitter.com/LiuKzir8Ex
— Andrew Holness (@AndrewHolnessJM) September 21, 2023
Opposition Leader, Mark Golding has expressed shock at the shooting of the Director of the Integrity Commission. He added that the authorities should provide additional security for the members of the Integrity Commission including Close Protection Officers where appropriate. pic.twitter.com/RsnehwB517
— Television Jamaica/Radio Jamaica Newscentre (@TvjNewscentre) September 21, 2023
Executive director Christie, meanwhile, appeared grim-faced when asked for his reaction to the shooting by a journalist at the scene. “You should ask the government that … ask them what that means,” he responded. When asked whether he was shocked, he replied: “No, it was inevitable, based upon the environment in which we are operating.”
One X user shared a video of Christie's comments, suggesting that they were politically biased:
Draw your own inferences. Shared without comment. And after, tell me if this strikes as fair and balanced. pic.twitter.com/mDW6xiWjRw
— Ryan Strachan (@5Solae) September 21, 2023
Christie's remarks fuelled another round of heavy criticism from IC critics, civil society, and sections of the media. There have since been calls for Christie's resignation, which the Commission itself sought to temper by denying that it was assigning any blame for the shooting on the government.
For his part, Christie divulged that members of the Commission had been receiving threats on social media, adding, “Our Chairman [retired head of Jamaica's Court of Appeal, Justice Seymour Panton] spoke about it.”
A few hours after the shooting, Speaker of the House Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert resigned as both Speaker and Member of Parliament. She had been under considerable pressure from many sectors of society to do so, following the tabling of an Integrity Commission ruling that stated she should be charged with eight counts of fraud under the Integrity Commission Act as well as with failure to declare her assets. The IC had posted full details of the ruling on social media on September 19:
An Investigation Report into concerns that the Hon. Mrs. Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert, MP and Speaker of the House, made false statements in the Statutory Declarations filed by her for the years 2015 to 2021, was tabled in Parliament today. https://t.co/bOUui3UhJA pic.twitter.com/h0wgtpZ1VQ
— Integrity Commission of Jamaica (@integrityja) September 19, 2023
In her statement, Dalrymple-Philibert concluded:
I look forward to the trial of the matter for which the Integrity Commission has ruled that I be charged, to be concluded in a court of law rather than a court of public opinion. As I stated in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, September 19, 2023, I have nothing to hide, and I did not knowingly mislead the Integrity Commission; it was a genuine oversight.
Many Jamaicans had little sympathy for the former Speaker:
You bought an asset and didn't declare it. You were wrong. You should be treated as any other public servant who has breached the rules. https://t.co/NBElcBRQYq
— Biggs from Yard (@gavinmyaz) September 21, 2023
Others — including a former Speaker of the House — pointed out that the court will decide, while this X user observed that anti-corruption laws must apply to all:
Just want say… if there are any PNP people recommended to be charged by the IC, I expect similar.
And if any other JLP people recommended to be charged, I expect similar.
Raise the bar.
— George Greeniebwoi (@DalveyG) September 21, 2023
Only the second woman Speaker of the House in Jamaica's history (the first, Violet Nielson, is now in her nineties), Dalrymple-Philibert had represented a rural constituency for the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) since 2007, having been re-elected to the seat in four consecutive general elections. Having served as Deputy Speaker from 2007, she was elected as the 15th Speaker of the House — an elected position voted on by members — in 2011.
Later that same day, after both the shooting and the resignation, the police reported a robbery at the former Speaker's law office, in which an armed man stole several items from staff members. This led to another round of speculation, both on and offline.
As Jamaicans sought to unravel the surprising events of the day, however, there was more to come — in the form of a moderate earthquake that shook the island at 7:30 p.m. and was almost a welcome distraction from Jamaica's thorny governance issues.
Will the country's anti-corruption entity emerge from these developments in a stronger position? It is hard to say, but one broadcast journalist expressed the feelings of many:
This week was chaotic!
PNP conference. Income tax proposal.
Integrity Commission (IC) report. House Speaker saga & resignation.
IC Director shot & team member being investigated. Earthquake.
& the list is incomplete.
Wi ever a keep & kept we did
Jamaica needs a time out!
— Andrea Chisholm (@andreachisja) September 22, 2023