“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”.