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Editorial: Make an example of Ms Haughton

Published:Monday | April 27, 2015 | 12:01 AM


We are at a loss why Shernet Haughton is still hanging around in the Hanover parish council and why there is this seeming lack of urgency by the People's National Party (PNP) to cut her loose. The party's seeming inertia could very well read as irresoluteness in the face of corruption and further paint Prime Portia Simpson Miller inveighing against misbehavior in public office of talk without real action.

We wish to make it clear that we do not accuse Ms Haughton of illegal behaviour. For as the director of public prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn declared last week, nepotism is not of itself "an offence known in law". But as Dirk Harrison, the contractor general, discovered during his probe of the Hanover parish council, there was plenty of that during the two years Ms Haughton served as chairman of the local government body and thus, mayor of the parish capital, Lucea.

During that time, Ms Haughton approved, without rigorous oversight, contracts to her husband, son, daughter, brother, sister, sister-in-law and brother-in-law as well as family friends. The sums involved may not appear to be overly large in the context of national expenditure, but for the parish council were significant.

But Ms Haughton's action revealed something significant about her and what is to be extrapolated from her behaviour about which too many perceive the intent of public office. First, Ms Haughton is ignorant - not only in the sense of lacking information about the protocols of governance, but of common decency and any sense of shame. We can conceive of no other understanding of her explanation for her behaviour, as was reportedly offered to the contractor general, that she was not schooled in the protocol of the award of contracts on her assumption of office.

We may well believe that Ms Haughton acted in ignorance and agree, as the DPP says, that she did not act illegally. But that does not mean that her action was not corrupt, in the sense that it represents a moral depravity; she wilfully leveraged her occupation of public office for family and or private gain. And that, unfortunately, appears to be more than a valid presumption about many of those who, like Ms Haughton, seek and attain public office. For while Ms Haughton was the main focus of attention, Mr Harrison's investigation showed that many other members of the Hanover Parish Council were involved in this irregular approach to contract awards. There is enough information to suggest the rot resides not only in Hanover.

Behaviour like Ms Haughton's, and others, can only have strengthened the view of the more than 80 per cent of Jamaicans who believe that the island's politics and political parties are corrupt. It is important that these institutions, which in the past have been tolerant of such behaviour, begin to seriously clean house and be seen, and believed, to be doing so.

In this respect leadership matters, starting with that of Mrs Simpson Miller as prime minister and president of the PNP of which Ms Haughton is a member. It is not enough for Mrs Simpson Miller to make declarations and for her government to pass laws against corruption, which, or course, is good. But legal action should be underpinned by a strong, unambiguous moral force. It should be clear to the Shernet Haughtons of Jamaica that Mrs Simpson Miller will not tolerate them under the PNP's tent. This tentativeness won't do.