Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Editorial | Phillip Paulwell’s exemplary act

Published:Friday | June 2, 2017 | 6:00 AM

Once you get past his presumption of martyrdom and rosewater sentimentality of the preface to the file, Phillip Paulwell's Facebook post of his 22 years of declarations to Parliament's Integrity Commission is an important development.

Not only has he pre-empted promised legislation dealing with the transparency of such information, he has gone much further than what is proposed for the law, which would limit such public disclosure to the prime minister, the leader of the Opposition, the finance minister, and his opposition shadow. As it now stands, anyone with a computer, smartphone, access to the Internet, or a Facebook account can log on to Mr Paulwell's account to review the filing, including supporting documents from accountants, banks, building societies, and Parliament.

Jamaicans have a fraught relationship with their politicians. Fundamentally, we don't trust them, believing them to be the exemplar of the corruption within which upwards of 90 per cent of the population perceive the country to be entrapped. Indeed, rated on a scale of 0-100 in the latest survey of democracy in Latin America, Parliament (31.9) and political parties (28.1) are the country's least trusted institutions, ranking below the constabulary, which tends to be so often, and publicly, reviled.

Worryingly, this erosion of trust grows worse despite the perennial declarations of intent, and the creation of new institutions by leaders to confront this crisis of confidence, with its negative implications for democracy. Parliament, for instance, is debating a bill to create a single anti-corruption agency that would include an independent prosecutor.

 

PAULWELL RAISES THE BAR

 

It is within this context and the partial release of his own integrity filings - they were shown, but not given, to selected journalists - that Prime Minister Andrew Holness proposed that such disclosures be limited to parliamentarians in crucial positions. Of the current Parliament, Julian Robinson, an opposition MP, and former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, of their own accord, have already gone the route of full transparency.

Mr Paulwell, by the breadth of his publication, and how he has done it, has substantially raised the bar. In celebration, he has sought to crown himself with halos while attempting to position his action as a kind of vindication of his several years as a government minister mired in controversies.

"I proudly wear the scars from these many battles I fought, and I am proud of the risks I have taken which paid for the Jamaican people," he wrote in his prologue to the files. "... I fought with my integrity intact."

Those remarks carry echoes from his tear-choked speech at a function in his honour by his constituents two years ago when he said he had been hurt by rumours of personal wealth, while struggling to meet his bills, including contributions to a daughter's university education.

Mr Paulwell has provided the opportunity for a kind of open-source analysis and testing of the credibility of his data and whether his lifestyle was in keeping with what, on the face of it, at least for 2016, appeared to be a modest income, relatively little savings, and not too many other assets. In that regard, we invite accountants, auditors, and others with the requisite competence to review the documents. In the process, it will help Mr Paulwell in his mission of changing "the perception that politics in Jamaica is corrupt".

Other MPs can be persuasive contributors to the cause by following Phillip Paulwell.

Correction: In the June 1, 2017, editorial, the impression was given that only 320 homes were delivered by Food For The Poor under its agreement with the Government. What was intended to be conveyed was that the wooden homes were 320 square feet in size.

We regret the error.