The Writing on the Wall

wall-writing

“Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting” – Daniel 5: 27 (The Bible, NIV)

The ugliness of the state of governance in Jamaica was captured in news headlines this week. Back-to-back news reports uncovered the true nature of the beast, which could no longer hide behind platitudes of “commitment to transparency and accountability”.

On Tuesday, September 17, 2013, The Office of the Contractor General (OCG) tabled two reports in Parliament highlighting that two members of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s Cabinet acted with impropriety in recent matters of public affairs.

Richard Azan, Junior Minister in the Ministry of Transport and Works was said to have acted in a “politically corrupt” manner (according to the OCG report) when he made arrangements for, and facilitated the building of ten shops in the Spalding Market without proper authorization.

In a separate report, the OCG concluded that Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM), Phillip Paulwell, improperly interfered with the bidding process for the right to supply 360 megawatts of power to the national grid.

It’s bad enough that these events actually happened. And a fair expectation of the Jamaican people of these public servants is that they excuse themselves of the honour of serving having brought DISHONOUR to their office. But this conduct is only the tip of the iceberg of contempt for Jamaicans.

The response to these matters of national (and critical) importance by the Government of Jamaica is repulsive. The OCG reports were tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. These reports implicate two Cabinet Ministers. The job of a Government Minister is not a 9-5 one. One could reasonably expect that an emergency meeting would have been called Tuesday evening into Tuesday night (or even early Wednesday morning) in order to address, in short order, a nation that has heard the utterly embarrassing news that TWO GOVERNMENT MINISTERS acted in a manner that dishonoured their office. How could the Government deem it acceptable to tell the nation on Wednesday, September 25, at the weekly Jamaica House Press Briefing that they are not able to comment at this time? Instead, we hear that they are still reviewing the reports, and at least one of the gentlemen (Mr. Azan) is being GIVEN TIME TO CONSULT WITH HIS LAWYERS.

In a CVM TV news report on Wednesday the PM reportedly said “I can’t say as I do not know what is going to happen. It is referred to the DPP so I have to wait and see what happens”. So much for “zero-tolerance approach to corruption”. I guess that was all drivel, then.

But the contempt did not stop there. Mr. Phillip Paulwell did not miss a beat in rebuffing the OCG’s report stating that, “We cannot have the OCG derailing this matter again. It has to go forward” (as reported in The Jamaica Gleaner). Sounds familiar? It should. In April 2012 the Jamaica Gleaner reported that Dr. Omar Davies “has declared the administration will not allow the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) to be a stumbling block in the engagement of private entities as the state moves to take advantage of investment opportunities”. I assume we’re familiar with the court matter that ensued as a result. The OCG is once again viewed by this administration as a stumbling block. Never mind that in the leadership debate of 2011, Mrs. Simpson Miller had promised to strengthen the OCG. Her exact words?

“When I’m returned to power as Prime Minister, I will ensure the strengthening of these institutions like the Office of the Contractor General, and all the institutions having to investigate corruption and deal with corruption when they are reported.” (Jamaica Leadership Debate – comment at 9:15)

And Richard Azan? His response to his matter was, “They [constituents] are in a better place today, and if I was politically corrupt in doing that, I don’t mind it” (as reported in this Jamaica Gleaner report today). Right. So if I am hungry and I walk on a man’s property and steal some mangoes off his tree, as long as I am fed and “in a better place” nutrition-wise, there is nothing wrong, correct? How about if I don’t have a place to live and I see an open property available. It’s been vacant for years and I don’t know of anyone claiming ownership. I can just go ahead and build a little shelter there without authorization – a place to live and call home, right? Because, after all, I’ll be “in a better place”. There’s a place for laws and regulations. I am now beginning to wonder if Jamaica is such a place considering the actions of our own legislators.

But the icing on the cake? The ghost of Trafigura (here is one news report back in October 2006 on the matter, if you needed a quick reminder). Today news broke that “The Constitutional Court has just dismissed an application challenging an order for the Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and other People’s National Party (PNP) members to answer questions under oath in court in the Trafigura case” (Jamaica Gleaner, September 20, 2013). After all the stench of corruption we’ve had to endure this week, this one comes back to remind us of past misdeeds. It’s like an omen, really.

The writing’s on the wall for your administration, Madame PM.

“You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting”.

TEKEL.

@MizDurie, @THINKJamaica

On the OCG’s findings on that (troublesome) Azan matter

On Tuesday, September 17, 2013, the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) released a 140-page report on its investigation on the construction of wooden shops at the Spalding Market.

A few things from the report:

  • Bryant’s construction won a bid to rehabilitate the Spalding Market. However, this rehabilitation did not include the construction of wooden shops (pg. 13).
  • The construction of the shops occurred without the knowledge and approval of the Clarendon Parish Council (pg. 14).
  • The OCG concludes, based on the testimonies of Mr. John Bryant, Councillor Trevor Gordon and the Hon. Richard Azan, himself, that “the Hon. Richard Azan, invited the Contractor to erect the shops or facilitated the erection of the shops without the consent and/or approval of the Clarendon Parish Council” (pg. 14).

The OCG directed our attention to Transparency International’s definition of political corruption, and added that:

A such careful consideration must then be given to the incidence of the perception of political corruption and the degree of political interference which forms the basis of the erection of the shops at the Spalding Market. Whilst the Jamaican legislative framework and regulations do not make reference to the issue of Political Corruption, its relevance and foreseeable implications to the governance framework in Jamaica can neither be discounted nor ignored.

I will not attempt to determine what the intent of Mr. Azan was in facilitating the arrangement of the unauthorized construction of wooden shops at the Spalding Market. Based on what we have seen in the report, it appears that there was “a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources…” And it appears that there was an “abuse of power” (Transparency International, “FAQs on Corruption“). But the why…was it “to sustain power, status and wealth”? This, I cannot determine.

I will ask this, however: Why didn’t Azan simply facilitate the construction of wooden shops at the Spalding Market in line with current laws and regulations? And if the issue is time it would take due to the bureaucracy involved, why not address this in parliament and facilitate the passing of legislation which would better facilitate doing business in Jamaica? You know…in line with the PM’s spiel about “Jamaica: open for business” (or something to that effect)?

Something to ponder…

Dear JLP…

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*sigh* Calm down. Take a breath. 

 I don’t think I’m the only one not making much of a fuss about this possible leadership challenge in your party.  Yes, I get that it is the first time in so many years that the delegates may get to vote for a leader. So I do understand why this would be a big deal. 

But…it kinda isn’t. It really isn’t THAT serious.  

Am I missing something here?

It has been touted that the JLP has a tradition of choosing a leader by consensus. Although this may very well be, there is a system in place that facilitates a challenge to the current leadership. Perhaps it’s because such systems have not been engaged for so many years why the very idea of one is so daunting. Is democracy strange to you? 

The possibility of disunity and “gutter politics” may become a reality by virtue of the attitude and conduct of members who opt to not let the process simply take its course. If the party has a set of values, policies and principles around which members can unite, selecting a leader really should not create such an irreparable rift.  Unless, of course, your politics is ONLY about personalities and not about policies. A challenge does not necessarily equate to disloyalty/disunity. It’s simply an opportunity for delegates to see/hear other perspectives and vote on whichever they think is best. That’s all, really. 

The sky isn’t falling.

Yes, it may look ugly at first, but that’s only because opposing views will clash. It’s not the end of the world. Understand that the process of change/growth isn’t pretty. And interfering with the process will make the thing dysfunctional.

That said…

For heaven’s sake, PLEASE LEARN HOW TO RIDE AND WHISTLE. YOU ARE STILL THE QUEEN’S LOYAL OPPOSITION.

@MizDurie, @ThinkJamaica