Emancipation from corruption
Yesterday's Gleaner contains a report ('Committee divided over definition of corruption') in which Minister of Justice Mark Golding is quoted as saying: "There is no reason to suspect that the definitions of acts of corruption in our law are deficient. I think that we are creating a phantom by saying it is somehow deficient."
Shernet Haughton, when she was mayor of Lucea, was involved in the award of more than $3.7 million worth of contracts to family members and close friends. Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn stated that, although the evidence of nepotism against Haughton was overwhelming, "that by itself is not an offence known to criminal law". If nepotism in the award of contracts by politicians is not covered by the Integrity Commission Act, then the definition of corruption in the act is deficient.
Richard Azan, MP for North West Clarendon, was forced in 2013 to resign as state minister in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, because of his role in the illegal construction of several shops in the Spaldings market. Payment of rental for the shops was made at Azan's constituency office, and his JP stamp, but not his signature, appeared on receipts shown to the press.
Local Government Minister Noel Arscott stated that Azan blundered when he instructed the contractor (a friend of his) to build the shops without getting approval from the parish council, and Azan himself admitted that he made a mistake, so the question of his guilt or innocence is not at issue.
He was in breach of the Government's procurement guidelines and building approval procedures, and he was guilty of building structures on someone else's land without their permission.
But according to the DPP, Richard Azan did nothing illegal, as there is no law (including the Integrity Commission Act) against an MP arranging for a friend of his to illegally construct shops on parish council property, and no law against him arranging for a member of his staff to collect the payment of rental of the shops at his constituency office, issuing receipts with his JP stamp. If breaching procurement guidelines and abusing one's position as an MP are not covered by the Integrity Commission Act, the definition of corruption in the act is deficient.
Either Minister Golding is disingenuous when he states, "There is no reason to suspect that the definitions of acts of corruption in our law are deficient", or he supports this kind of behaviour by politicians and wants elected officials to be free to continue them without the sanction of the law.
Tomorrow is the 181st anniversary of the emancipation of enslaved people in Jamaica. It was not local politicians who freed the slaves, but the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 of the British Parliament. There were very many Jamaican planters, merchants and slave owners in the British Parliament, and they had lobbied their peers to vote down earlier attempts at Emancipation. What apparently turned the tide was Sam Sharpe's Christmas Rebellion of 1831 which led to widespread loss of property and some loss of life; and the subsequent speaking tour of Great Britain undertaken by the Rev William Knibb to plead the cause of Emancipation.
The Jamaica House of Assembly (made up exclusively of slave owners) resisted Emancipation tooth and nail. What eventually won their grudging support was the £20-million compensation they were promised (equivalent in today's money to £70 billion sterling) for the loss of their property.
Each colonial legislature was allowed to decide whether the slaves in their territory would be freed immediately or whether they first had to undergo Apprenticeship. The Antiguan House of Assembly voted to free their slaves immediately on August 1, 1834; Jamaica's House of Assembly voted to squeeze every hour of free labour out of the former slaves. Children under six years old were freed immediately, but house slaves were to be free after four years, and field slaves after six years. A few local slave owners chose not wait for the end of apprenticeship, but manumitted their slaves immediately.
Our history shows that our local politicians cannot be relied upon to always do the right thing on their own; a little prodding (and sometimes a heavy push) from overseas powers is sometimes required.
We would still be borrowing to close the budget if the IMF had not put a stop to it. Christopher 'Dudus' Coke would still be on the throne in his garrison if the US government did not demand his extradition. All the other garrisons remain intact because there has been no outside push.
Who is going to step in and emancipate us from political corruption?
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.