Editorial | Come clean on Trafigura
The rule of law and, its handmaiden, a free and independent judicial system, are critical allies in the preservation of democracy and freedoms guaranteed thereby. That is why this newspaper respects the use by individuals of the processes of the courts to protect their rights, or perceived attacks thereon, and why we make no argument against the ongoing legal manoeuvres of the People's National Party (PNP) officials caught in the so-called Trafigura Affair.
But Trafigura transcends the strict legal issues being argued before judges in the Supreme and Appeal courts. Implicit in its discussion are issues of moral and transparent governance and what ought to be expected and legislated conduct of political parties, especially against the backdrop of the low level of trust enjoyed by Jamaican political institutions. That is why it may be useful that in engaging Trafigura, the PNP might wish to recast the discourse, separating the clearly legal and moral issues.
Trafigura Beheer is a Dutch commodity trader and logistics company that from time to time receives contracts to buy and sell oil on behalf of Jamaica, as was the case in 2006 when the PNP formed the government. That year, the company caused to be transferred to an account in Jamaica, controlled by officials of the PNP, the equivalent of J$31 million. What, up to now, has not been clarified is the basis of this transactions, which the Dutch government wants to know, and why it has invoked its mutual legal assistance treaty with Jamaica.
If the money were an unreported gift to the PNP, that apparently would be illegal under Dutch law. And if it were payments for business deal with the then PNP general secretary, Colin Campbell, and party associate and businessman Norton Hinds, there would be questions about the services they provided.
THE BENEFIT OF TRAFIGURA
In the event, all of this happened before Jamaica passed legislation requiring political parties to report political contributions, so there has been no suggestions that the PNP breached any rules. Nor has anyone claimed that either Messrs Campbell or Hinds, or the PNP's president, Portia Simpson, who the Dutch wants witness statements from, engaged in corrupt behaviour, in breach of Jamaican laws, to the benefit of Trafigura.
What primarily is at issue now is a judge's insistence that the examination of the PNP officials should be in open court, rather than the privacy of chambers, when they are not on trial or accused of a crime. That is a matter to be resolved by appeal judges, based, in part, we suspect, on an interpretation of Section 19 (1) of the mutual assistance law that such examinations, subject to the provision of that act, should be "in accordance with relevant laws in force in Jamaica and the procedures applicable under those laws".
Whatever the ruling of the Court of Appeal, it would be useful, we believe, for the PNP to declare if it got the money from Trafigura, why and for what it was used. A gift of that size will, as soon as the party and campaign financing laws come into force, have to be reported to the Electoral Commission and be made public. Coming clean on this issue doesn't prevent the party from proceeding with its case in the courts.