Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Editorial | Beyond spinning the OCG’s report

Published:Sunday | July 2, 2017 | 7:00 AM

Editorial | Beyond spinning the OCG’s report

To be inveigled into the political spin over the contractor general's report on the J$600m election-eve verge- and drain-cleaning project is like voluntarily accepting a very bad case of vertigo. But in the end, there is still the truth.

So, Dirk Harrison might not have actually found a hand stuck in the national till. Nor were his findings a vindication of the administration or the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), from which it is formed, as has been implied by the latter's general secretary and senior government minister, Horace Chang.

Rather, the contractor general's report is splattered with examples of the invidious system, of which this newspaper often inveighs - because of its role in sustaining patronage and corruption - and the intrusion of politicians and seeming partisan considerations in the award of government contracts.

Indeed, it is a matter about which Mr Harrison, too, is concerned and of which he warned the Government in his report.

He said: "... The direct involvement of a member of parliament or elected representative in the selection of a subcontractor and/or facilitator in the performance of government contracts has the potential to result in political corruption, where the selection of these contractors can be linked or associated with political motives and operatives, and where public funds can be used to finance political agendas."

Mr Harrison's investigation was spawned by the Opposition People's National Party's (PNP) complaint of the then still-new administration's big spending, just ahead of municipal elections, on the kind of project that politicians like to have in play just when people are about to cast ballots: the ones that a lot of people get work - even if for the short term - a little cash flows and everyone seems busy.

Jamaica's political parties, however, have long worked out an accommodation for bipartisan and proportionate 'snouting' at the trough. Usually, each side gets a share of the swill and an opportunity for their MPs to ladle a bit to their supporters. This time, the PNP was mostly kept in the dark about the scheme; government parliamentarians were the ones perceptive to be sharing the spoils. The Opposition's argument was that the intent was to bribe voters and, possibly, facilitate kickbacks with which to finance the JLP's campaign.

The administration's riposte was that the timing of the project just before the election was merely coincidence; it was emergency work in the face of recent floods and a health threat from water-borne vectors.

Significantly, though, as Mr Harrison revealed, it was the Cabinet, rather than the National Works Agency, that determined which companies were to be awarded contracts and their specific amounts - mostly in breach, the contractor general argues, of procurement rules. Further, several government ministers either instructed or suggested who should be subcontractors or be employed for the jobs. We expect to hear more, from different quarters, about this.

Our great disappointment is that Andrew Holness, the first prime minister born after Independence, promised to be different.

In his inaugural address, with a razor-thin majority in Parliament, he posited that there was "no absolute agency of power" and described his ascension as a "test", rather than a "prize". This report should be a reminder of that declaration; of Jamaica's slippage in the global corruption index; and of his acknowledgement in February that in the 55 years of Jamaica's Independence, "we could have achieved much more were it not for corruption in many forms".

We say that the politics of patronage is a clear form of corruption.