Daniel Thwaites | Trust but verify
We really shouldn’t only be hung up on the financial records of our public officials. What about the health records, too? When people stand as candidates, it’s a job application to the people of the country, and they ought to be game-fit.
Right now, I’m convinced that we have verifiable booze-aholics standing for office; people with untreated emotional problems; mental illnesses that lead to rash decisions. I haven’t even touched the issue of people dropping dead because of heart problems or just regular old age.
Anyway, two Fridays ago, Andrew Holness showed a few hand-picked people in the media his Integrity Commission filings. I thought The Gleaner’s editorial hit the right tone and made the right call about Mr Holness’ disclosure. Respect is due to him. He has set a new bar, so far, by doing more than any other current politician has to this point.
But afterwards, Mr Holness took to his Twitter handle @AndrewHolnessJM and, in full flourish, weaponised the Bible with: “Happy Sabbath Jamaica I leave you with this verse. “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” – Matthew 23:25
Was that a threat? It sure read like one: “Unnu draw mi out … wait till mi ketch unnu!” Some definitely saw it that way. However, I see it as an unrivalled opportunity for Jamaica. Guh tru, Anju! Do unto others as they are doing unto you!
Right below the Gleaner story about Holness’ quasi-secretive openness, followed another with Trevor Munroe panting approval and gushing praise. How far has Trevor travelled on the road from Moscow to Washington, DC? I’m not sure. But I see he has forgotten one of Lenin’s favourite little sayings, “Doveryai no proveryai.” Translation: “Trust but verify.”
The Gleaner asked for the information to be tabled in Parliament, and so was far more cautious and inquiring than Munroe. I immediately concluded that Trevor followed the wrong calling in life, and that his real skill is with snap-judgement forensic accounting. How else could he have signed off and given such a blessing?
Hence, to make the point I want to, I have to abandon the former revolutionary and enlist a practising one.
So let me take you back, by way of detour, to Lloyd D’Aguilar’s melodramatic ejection from the Tivoli Enquiry. Upon the removal order, he hilariously announced "The Tivoli Committee is MOVING out!”
I concluded at that point that, maybe, y’know, the lights were on but the dogs weren’t barking, that the elevator didn’t get to the top floor, that someone here is knitting with only one needle.
But now, and not for the first time, I live to chew on my words and savour them slowly. For in the wake of these dramatic disclosures, first by Julian, and then by Andrew, it was Lloyd D’Aguilar who called the right shots.
Naturally, it was on Jamaica’s new debate HQ, social media. He tweeted:
“Robinson/Holness wealth stunning. Many more in parliament just as rich. We have a PLUTOCRACY. Impossible to elect a worker to parliament.”
He then continued:
“Who r de richest MPs in parliament? Holness? Ju Robinson? Bunting? Simpson-Miller? Golding? Vaz? Thwaites? Ja Robinson?? What a plutocracy!”
My first steep challenge was to understand who is “Ja Robinson”, and how I could be agreeing with tweets from Lloyd D’Aguilar? But then I said to myself: Why not? Even a broken clock is right twice daily.
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Without question, all others in the Lower House and Senate should have to disclose their assets and liabilities, and not just to the Integrity Commission. In the absence of legislation demanding it, all should turn it over voluntarily. Those who feel that, for whatever reason, they cannot withstand that scrutiny, need to pursue a new line of work.
I accept that politicians are entitled to some privacy, but the default should be to openness, not as we now have it, to secrecy.
As for the charge that we live in a plutocracy: that could well be so. If all, or most, parliamentarians have a net worth comfortably over a million US dollars, that’s something Jamaicans should know. Then they can compare it with the net worth of the average Jamaican. And they can then determine their comfort with whatever disparity exists.
In a recent column, I mentioned that the required report for electoral financing is a joke. It pretty much covers nothing and might as well not exist. For instance, the bewigged African chieftain, Pearnel Charles, reports spending $50,000 on his last election campaign. If that doesn’t make you smile, then laugh, then cry, I’m going to say that you’re either stupid or wicked. We have a system that takes a pretty decent guy and gets him to tell the public a steaming pile of … that!
The same is true, unfortunately, of the Integrity Commission report. It doesn’t seem to me to capture something as simple as gifts to lawmakers. Or if a supplier extended credit to a politician, then just forgave the debt, it wouldn’t be captured by that report. Or if 'donations', political or otherwise, are diverted for personal use.
I think the Gleaner could do a real public service by publishing the form so that citizens can get a really good look at it to see how it is designed to achieve nothing.
Remember the Matthew 23: 25 battering ram? Some people checked on it and found that Mr Holness had got it wrong. The Scripture actually says:
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.”
Backside! Comrade Lenin was right Trevor: it makes sense to verify. Oh, and it became a favourite expression of Ronald Reagan too, so the idea can survive any (and every) further ideological migration. You have to check and verify, because, y’know, like it says at Matthew 23:41: “Shoe alone know if stocking have hole.”
Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.