THE present wave of corruption in public office is unprecedented in modern Jamaica. However, corruption is not new to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
The party boasts a well-established tradition of corrupt behaviour as JLP ministers of Government have presided over wanton robbery of the public purse, and some of them have been convicted and sentenced to serve time in prison.
In the 1950s, former JLP Minister of Education Joe Z Malcolm was sentenced to 12 months at hard labour for defrauding his constituents. Malcom’s successor in the Ministry of Education, LL Simmonds, was next. He was convicted in July 1954 for breaches of the Official Secrets Act, and sentenced to 15 months at hard labour.
In the decade of the 1960s, the former minister of state in the Ministry of Education Arthur Burt may well have been the third to face the courts and be sentenced for his role in the corrupt handling of the school building programme (1967-71) financed by the World Bank. A report from the commission of enquiry established to probe the matter stated that “although suggestions of a grave character were made before the commission involving Dr Burt” he fled the island to avoid appearing before the commission and facing criminal charges.
In February 1990 JAG Smith, former JLP minister of labour, was charged with receiving US$70,000 deemed by the director of public prosecutions to have been unlawfully obtained from farm workers’ savings. He was also charged with conspiracy to defraud. He was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison at hard labour.
One would have thought that the JLP would want to break with its tradition of corruption, and listening to Prime Minister Holness’s lofty pronouncements of integrity at his swearing-in, many Jamaicans expected honesty and transparency from the new Government. Instead, what we have experienced is an Administration that has taken corruption to another level.
Former JLP Minister of Education Ruel Reid was hastily removed from office to facilitate a full investigation of reports of corruption, nepotism and misappropriation of public funds within the ministry as well as its agencies, including Caribbean Maritime University.
Andrew Wheatley has been relieved of his ministerial responsibility after exposure of widespread corruption in the agencies for which he had portfolio responsibility. We anxiously await the reports from ongoing investigations in the Petrojam scandal.
At present, it is the Ministry of Health and Wellness which is under the microscope, and this, by no means, exhausts the list of corrupt practices that have been exposed since the Holness Administration has taken office.
What is shocking to the Jamaican public is not only the unprecedented depth and breadth of corruption which is being unearthed, but the arrogance of the perpetrators and the refusal of the prime minister to hold his colleagues accountable in any meaningful way.
Corrupt practices seem to have become a way of life for this Administration. It hardly matters to them the poverty that is being experienced by the people they have offered themselves to represent. They don’t seem to care that the health services are inadequately funded. They are content to have an under-funded and ill-equipped security force, despite the escalating criminal violence. Even as the people suffer, the rape of the public purse continues and the perpetrators go about their criminal pursuits with the confidence that they are protected.
Whatever corruption took place under previous Administrations does not and cannot preclude the responsibility of civil society to expose the corruption that is presently enriching a connected criminal clique and depriving critical services like security and health of urgently needed investments.
The Jamaican people cannot remain indifferent to the present wave of corruption. We must demand immediate action on the following list of initiatives that have been put forward. These include:
* The single anti-corruption agency/ the Integrity Commission.
* The criminalisation of breaches of the Political Code of Conduct.
* The strengthening of the powers of the political ombudsman.
The National Integrity Action estimates that the cost of corruption to the Jamaican people is now running into billions of dollars. It is time to bring this Administration to book.
— K Churchill Neita is a veteran attorney-at-law and member of the People’s National Party.
Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown has written to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) regarding allegations that public officials aligned to the party are actively involved in representational politics in breach of the Code of Conduct and the legislation giving her office jurisdiction to police misconduct.
President of the Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA), O’Neil Grant, has also made it clear that the public-service Staff Orders prohibit public officers from campaigning and appearing on political platforms.
“We are explicitly prohibited from taking part in partisan political activities,” Grant told The Gleaner.
Parchment Brown, who penned a letter on June 24 to the hierarchy of the JLP following complaints by the People’s National Party, indicated that persons holding positions in the public sector were doubling up as caretakers.
Failure by the JLP to respond to the claim by next week could cause her office to summon purported offenders.
In March, the PNP wrote to the political ombudsman complaining about Tova Hamilton, who then served as deputy executive director of the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) and Jamaica Labour Party caretaker for Trelawny North. She was appointed a senator by Prime Minister Andrew Holness last week.
The Gleaner understands that Hamilton quit the agency on June 22.
The PNP had also raised concern about Rhoda Crawford, the JLP standard-bearer for Manchester Central, who works at the HEART/NSTA Trust as director for the adult education services.
Parchment Brown pointed out that Section 12 of the legislation states that the political ombudsman shall investigate any action taken by a political party, its members or supporters, where she is of the opinion that such action is likely to prejudice good relations between the supporters of various political parties.
She cited an example of how a breach could occur. “Let’s say that you are a caretaker and you are working in the Ministry of Agriculture. It’s a conflict because there are people saying you are on the public purse and you are out there campaigning, using public funding to do partisan work,” Parchment Brown told The Gleaner.
The Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct states that officials should repudiate any act of corruption in the discharge of their functions.
“The definition of corruption, in my mind, includes doing any act that would create any advantage or disadvantage to a particular group based on some associations or identity where they are advantaged or disadvantaged.
“If you are preparing to become an MP, you are not expected to hold a government job, too,” Parchment Brown said.
According to Grant, if public officers campaign and appear on political platforms or speak as political activists, they would be deemed in contravention of the Staff Orders for the public sector and could be disciplined.
However, he pointed out that persons working as consultants or advisers to ministers of government are not deemed public officers.
Rhoda Crawford, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) standard-bearer who is seeking to unseat the incumbent for Manchester Central, Peter Bunting, in the upcoming general election, has signalled that her contract ends this month and she will shortly be leaving her public-sector job.
The Gleaner has seen a copy of a letter written by Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown to Crawford alleging, based on a report from the general secretary of the People’s National Party (PNP) Julian Robinson, that Crawford has been involved in “partisan political activities”.
The letter dated June 24 said that the political ombudsman has attached a copy to the prime minister, indicating that she has commenced an investigation into the matter.
She charged that the PNP had fielded candidates in the past who were actively involved in government service and never resigned during that period.
The JLP political aspirant cited a particular PNP councillor in Manchester Central who was reportedly employed to the National Solid Waste Management Authority while campaigning in the run-up to the last local government elections and never resigned until nomination day.
Crawford took the political ombudsman to task, saying, “I have followed her utterances, and I think that she has been very partisan in all her criticisms. We have seen many issues and blunders of the PNP go unnoticed.”
“The political ombudsman herself is found wanting as it concerns objectivity, so I would not respond to her,” said Crawford.
The JLP prospective candidate for Manchester Central is proposing that the laws and regulations governing public-sector workers and their quest to participate in the political process be amended.
“Maybe what they need to do is to put stricter measures in place to ensure that there is no impropriety and no misappropriation (of funds),” she said.
Crawford made it clear that she did not handle public resources in her capacity as director of adult education services at the HEART/NSTA Trust.
“If any item is needed in my division, even as small as a pen, I can make a recommendation, but the approval is granted at the senior level in the Trust,” she said.
Political Ombudsman, Donna Parchment Brown, and Commissioner of Police, Major Antony Anderson, have met to discuss the state of readiness of Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) liaison officers in light of upcoming election campaigning activities.
Parchment Brown says Wednesday’s meeting was very productive.
Arising from the meeting, she says officers are to be given adequate resources to aid in mobility, communication and identification.
She says the 19 JCF liaison officers and their coordinator play a key role across Jamaica’s police divisions, investigating potential breaches of the Code of Conduct, and keeping the ombudsman informed of queries and complaints received from the public.
Jamaica’s Political Ombudsman, Hon. Donna Parchment Brown, was a presenter on the topic: Respond, Restructure, Recover at a webinar organized by Caribbean Women in Leadership (CIWiL), a regional organisation charged with promoting women’s political development to ensure greater political participation & inclusion in decision-making & leadership roles.
The Political Ombudsman noted key leadership qualities for great leaders. These qualities include communication, empathy, resilience, vision and accountability. Using these leadership attributes, women should continue to participate in the political process as party members, supporters, active observers and voters.
The webinar was held under the theme: Women Leadership and the Response to COVID19 in the Caribbean. Speakers included, Hon. Samantha Marshall MP, Min. of Agriculture, Fisheries and Barbuda Affairs from Antigua & Barbuda, Ms. Nana Bayne, Social Economist and Gender Expert/CIWiL Board Coordinator, Ms. Tonni Ann Brodber, Deputy Representative for UN Women, Dr. Tress-Ann Kremer, Head of Good Offices for Peace & Political Adviser for the Caribbean Region Commonwealth Secretariat and Mr. Abubakar Abdullhai, Programme Officer for the Inclusive Dialogue & Women’s Political Participation Project Commonwealth Secretariat. Sponsors consisted of UN Women, CIWiL, ParlAmericas, Commonwealth Secretariat and the Government of Canada.