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Mark Wignall | Caricel, USA and the power of innuendo

Published:Sunday | December 11, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Joshua Polacheck

First, there was the lumbering giant known as Cable & Wireless (C&W). Then it became known to Jamaicans simply as Telephone Company.

C&W had ample reason to slumber, too, because it had no competition. It could sleep overnight, deny hundreds of consumers phones in their homes, and still make money from its established infrastructure. Those of us who could afford to grease the palms of technicians to speed up the installation of home phones were quite happy with the status quo. We wore our class corruption as a badge of honour.

Then, at the beginning of the 2000s, came Digicel, an Irish company headed by Dennis O'Brien.

Jamaica embraced Digicel with open arms and basically saw C&W as a fixture having only nuisance use. As Digicel broke records, C&W decided to step away from the cemetery gate, restructure and rebrand. In the interim, O'Brien became deservedly rich beyond his dreams.

As C&W went to LIME, it began to challenge Digicel on its cross-platform rates, which basically benefited Digicel to a greater degree than it was exposing C&W to the new level playing field.

In time, LIME became FLOW, and it can be fairly said that FLOW is holding its own against Digicel, the bigger player.

The third player being planned for the market, Caricel/Symbiote, seems to be up against 'the system'. That system has not yet been fully decoded. What is known is that it allows in concocted agendas and hidden alliances.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration has decided to award the third telecoms licence to Caricel, against the advice of the Office of the Contractor General (OCG). The Government is informed to a certain degree by the findings of the contractor general, but it is not bound by any hard rule to comply with directions recommended.

Specific sections of civil society, with their hidden alliances, have parroted the views of the OCG. And then recently, the US Embassy has intruded in the matter, creating a precedent such as I have never seen. When Joshua Polacheck from the Embassy tweeted his endorsement of the OCG's concerns, I could not determine what was behind the US government's concerns.

 

USA NEVER COY ON DUDUS' EXTRADITION

 

In 2009, when it came to public light that the Americans had a deep desire to cage Christopher Coke, the message was clear that 'Dudus' was a bad dude. Innuendo had no currency. Drug trafficking, guns, criminality screamed out.

It's always assumed that America knows more than we do and, even more important, it knows what is right for us. This is the price we pay for overtime spent at political malpractice in Jamaica, which has led to our economic doldrums, societal decay and the need to seek out America as a cash lifeline.

We have been told that George Neil, the main investor in Caricel, once had an 'adverse trace' on him. This could have meant many things if it is indeed true.

It could not have meant that Mr Neil was convicted of a crime because that would be plainly stated. So, we are obviously in the realm of accusation and suspicion. Were these accusations and suspicions taken as leads and investigated by the appropriate authorities, and, if so, what were the results?

The other assumption to be made in our acceptance of the raw political and economic power the US exerts is that it does not have to tell the full truth.

This time, it simply makes no sense. Why would the US Embassy not just arrive at an official position on a Jamaican domestic matter, but in trying to explain the undiplomatic precedent, does not even make out a schoolboy's case for the motivating factors much less the actual results of investigations?

 

COME CLEAN, US EMBASSY

 

We know that America is not just our friend but is the one that keeps giving and giving by virtue of the huge population of our relatives living there. If American authorities identify in Jamaica an individual who has committed cross-border crimes, there are certain protocols that are in place.

There is the foreign affairs ministry. The attorney general.

America has always taken its power beyond the established protocols, so if it does a short cut and, say, gives an 'unwritten' report to the Jamaica Constabulary Force, so be it. Does any such report on Mr Neil exist?

We are forced to ask another question staring us in the face: Does the US Embassy/US government have a political position on this? Something which is purely party interlinked and not really that much of a genuine international concern?

The American position cannot just be to seemingly snipe at Mr Neil, leave it hanging out there as pure innuendo, and somehow hope that it will stick in the public mind that there is something infernal about Caricel and Mr Neil.

 

FIGHTING AGAINST

 

 

EACH OTHER

 

It was some time in either 2009 or 2010 as I sat in the comfort of Ian Moore's apartment and heard his story. He was a highly educated, accomplished and wealthy man. I particularly liked that he looked like the majority of us. After his success abroad, he returned home and could have simply sat on his laurels in early retirement.

But he dared for more. As his company, Caribbean LNG, linked up with Exmar out of Belgium to form a consortium bidding for the LNG rollout in Jamaica, it was killed by the OCG, and Bruce Golding, then prime minister under a JLP administration, read it his myopic last rites.

We assume in almost all instances that our own people are scamps and scammers. We know that we have real problems, and even if we make the further assumption that many of our business icons today were ruthless business desperadoes of the past, there is a way forward today where all bidders for public business can present themselves and be given a fair hearing.

The concerns raised by Mr Polacheck about security don't quite square with the fact that Jamaica is fully in the US's trigger hairs within the confines of our two main telecoms entities, Digicel and FLOW, and lotto scamming.

The US will change its executive to Republican in January. The US Embassy in Jamaica and, by extension, the US government need to state in unambiguous language whether the position on Caricel is an authentic one based on the norms of US-Jamaica relations, or does it have a purely political tinge?

In 2014, while in conversation with Phillip Paulwell, then energy minister in the PNP administration, he lamented the fact that the Golding administration had killed the Exmar consortium move in 2010.

"We would have been so far ahead in giving our people cheaper light bills," he said.

Let us for a while forget that men in high places ally with men in other high places to pursue common interests, and that this is just natural business instinct. Hold that thought.

I do not know George Neil, but I know where our default position is in judging our people. The police have given him a clean slate. The OCG would, we assume, get its info from the police, so where are the dots being connected in this seemingly made-up hodgepodge?

The US Embassy needs to avail the OCG, Caricel, the Government of Jamaica and the JCF of the vast array of information it supposedly has on Mr Neil.

The JLP government has found itself delicately positioned between empty but powerful words from the US Embassy, its intention to award Caricel the third telecoms contract, and its knowledge that culturally powerful forces are aligned against the award.

It knows the business culture in this country and it knows the hidden agendas and not-so-secret alliances that exist. Especially those in the cross-border column.

- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com. Blog at markwignall.com.