Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Editorial | Mr Burke’s own roll in the mud

Published:Thursday | September 1, 2016 | 9:08 AM

We interpret Paul Burke's "stone in a pigsty" retort to Omar Davies' complaint about his purported political kickback allegations as not only acknowledgement that he made the remarks, but that he is standing by them.

In that event, Mr Burke made a statement about not only his perception of the state of governance in Jamaica, but, in the absence of clarification, he revealed something about himself, including, it seems, a willing accommodation of behaviour that decency, and more demands being frowned upon.

Paul Burke is the general secretary of the People's National Party (PNP), which, until March 3, formed Jamaica's administration. Dr Davies was the minister with responsibility for construction and transportation in that administration. The dispute between the two men is apparently related to the complaint by the PNP's treasurer that during the campaign for the February election, several senior party officials raised money privately without turning it over to the central treasurer, leading to a discordant campaign,

But based on Dr Davies' statement, Mr Burke, who has for the better part of 40 years revelled in his image as the PNP's enfant terrible, went further. According to Dr Davies, Mr Burke said at a recent meeting of the party's National Executive Committee that he learnt that it was the norm for Chinese firms doing business in a country to pay an 'agent's fee' of between one per cent and 1.5 per cent of the overall value of the contract. It was custom, in that regard, for the portfolio minister to appoint the 'agent'.

Said Dr Davies in a letter to Mr Burke: "You then alluded to a particular large project which was being implemented and asserted that, based on the level of expenditure on that project, the 'agent's fee' would have amounted to between US$10 million and US$12 million. The link which you sought to establish to the PNP's campaign financing was a significant percentage of this amount should have been turned over to the party."

 

'STONE IN A PIGSTY'

 

According to Dr Davies, many people at the meeting left with the clear impression that he was the minister who would have appointed the agent, "a practice of which I have no knowledge" and which he had never engaged, a claim Davies also labelled as "reckless and unacceptable". Mr Burke's response to the demand for clarity was to reprise the adage: If you throw a stone in a pigsty, it is the one that squeals that was hit.

Our response is this: At its core, the action as described by Dr Davies is a demand for kick-backs, or the use of public office for private gain, although in this case involving what could only be a conspiracy between a portfolio minister and his portfolio party. Any such behaviour is a criminal offence under Jamaica's Corruption Prevention Act, for which persons found guilty can be jailed or fined, or both. In many countries, too, it is also illegal for their firms to offer bribes to foreign officials, or to acquiesce when they are demanded.

In the circumstances, we are surprised that in response to this newspapers' questions, Mr Burke didn't reject out of hand, or declare his abhorrence to the approach to public policy, or suggest that Davies' misapprehended his reported statement. The "stone in a pigsty" response can only be presumed as a doubling down. He is unfortunately open to an accusation that his only concern is that the PNP didn't get its cut. We hope that it's we who misinterpreted and got the context wrong.