Wed | Nov 25, 2020

Mark Wignall | Firearms licensing and corruption

Published:Wednesday | August 23, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Shep* was a physically imposing man with a voice that roared and a character that was devoid of even the pretense of virtue.

In the mid-1990s when I met him, he had deep connections to the leadership of one of the political parties and was well placed, in that I instantly recognised him for the snake-oil salesman he was. Not surprisingly, he was verbally quick-witted and had an answer for all questions, but he had two flaws which his 'friends' immediately pointed out to me.

He had an undue attraction for underage girls and would not recognise his name were it printed on one side of a stale bulla. He was illiterate.

"Man like you fi have gun licence," he said one day. We discussed it for a while and three days later he presented me with a gun licence application form with all signatures in place, even though I had not written a single word on it. All that was missing was my personal details, passport-sized picture and JP certification.

He would cultivate my company for the sole purpose of trying to coax then current polling information out of me and informed me that the normal cost to grease the palms of those in charge would not apply to me because I was "a special man."

That, of course, was in the days when local police authorities were empowered to issue gun licences. In those days, outmoded 'flaws' such as personal responsibility and integrity were basic hindrances to securing gun licences.

I kept the form he gave me until it got lost among the many files filling up my personal space.

In the early 2000s, before the Firearms Licensing Authority (FLA) was formed (2005), a set of drug dealers and politically connected thugs were extradited to the US. Almost all of them had gun licences. The last going price I heard just before the FLA was put in place was $250,000 a pop.

In fact, just about all well-connected thugs and politically coloured goons were in possession of licensed firearms. The requirement of need, good character, integrity and even a vault to keep the firearm were imposed on those who met the conditions in securing licences, but the shortcut of $250,000 made those factors redundant.

With recent revelations coming out of the FLA, it does appear that not much has changed in the corruption template.

If there is any good news to be had, it is that a few journalists, good citizens of note and whistle-blowers have, almost in tandem, supplied the 'authorities' with just enough information to stir up a hornets, nest of trouble for those who openly wore the garments of integrity by day but, instead, found more comfort slithering in the darkness of corruption.


Crucial info


Neither the JLP nor the PNP can claim any high road on this, but the JLP administration may wish to claim that certain areas of its ministerial structure did recently receive crucial info on 'irregularities' and this has triggered action. Needing to increase the severity of the narrative against the present administration, ex National Security Minister Peter Bunting has attempted a new spin on the ball, but it hasn't quite moved the way he hoped it would.

The fact is, there are deep systemic flaws in our polity and the FLA needs to be moved out of the scope of influence of the politicians. With the JLP in power, it will do what political parties do - install the people who are umbilically connected. Just as the PNP did when it had its bite of the cherry.

The FLA needs to be made into a commission as suggested by Dennis Meadows, where the governor general appoints those at the top. Even with that, there will be no guarantee of the cessation of corruption, but the accountability structure ought to be on sounder footing as the nation slowly plods its way from its deeply corrupt culture, both in business and in contemporary political behaviour.

Shep, my acquaintance of the late 1990s (now deceased), said it best when I questioned him. "Nutten nuh corrupt 'bout it. Everybody a do it."

He would fit in quite nicely with recent arrangements.

*Not his real name

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