Wed | Jun 3, 2020

Editorial | Audley Shaw obligated to report crime

Published:Friday | September 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM


That he has spoken publicly about it can only mean that Audley Shaw takes seriously what he interprets to be a threat on his life. And so, too, must law enforcement. In the event, the police must engage in a full and thorough investigation of this matter, determine whether this is a credibile conspiracy, and report their findings to the country, including whether someone, or group of individuals, ought to be charged for a crime. Let the chips fall where they will.

But this obligation rests not only with the police. Nor does it reside solely in any danger to life that may be faced by the commerce and agriculture minister. For the threat, insofar as one exists, has its genesis in an alleged criminal conspiracy to which Mr Shaw recently drew public attention and from whose pursuance he cannot, in the circumstance, now resile.

To put it bluntly, Audley Shaw, we insisted when he first made the claim, is now obligated to take to the Jamaica Constabulary force (JCF), the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA), and the Financial Investigations Division (FID) all the information he has on the evasion of tariffs on the importation of refined sugar by food processors, the customs brokers, and colluding customs officers. It is a matter possibly, too, for the Integrity Commission.

In the normal course of things, refined sugar attracts a duty of 280 per cent, as part of a government policy to protect the domestic sugar industry, notwithstanding the fact that Jamaica has no capacity to produce granulated sugar. However, when refined sugar is imported for use in manufacturing, the tariff is waived.

A fortnight ago, Mr Shaw echoed a charge made previously by the head of a quasi-government sugar agency that much of the sugar imported duty-free found its way on to the retail market, depriving the Government of revenue, placing substantial profit in the pockets of importers. This scheme, he claimed, was facilitated by corrupt customs brokers and customers enforcement officials.

In other words, based on the claims by the minister, this scheme represented breaches not only of customs regulations, but the Act for the Prevention of Corruption, and perhaps other legislation, conviction under any of which carries heavy penalties.

Mr Shaw, however, appeared not to prefer criminal proceedings against the alleged conspirators, opting initially to impose the tariff on all sugar imports, which, in the case of manufacturers, they would later claw back, having satisfied the authorities that the sugar was for use in their processes. That, of course, would have been bad for business, imposing cause on manufacturers and undermining their competitiveness against foreign counterparts. Sensibly, Mr Shaw retreated from the idea.

The fact, however, that the corrupt sugar importers and their facilitators, insofar as we are aware, would remain untouched, and according to Mr Shaw, he is being warned to beware of what he does, lest he find himself in danger. "... People are telling me that if I rock the boat too much, my life could be in danger," he said. "Well, so be it, so be it."

We agree with Mr Shaw that he can't "cower in my corner". As a senior minister in the Government and a critical part of the state apparatus, he has to act, the first step of which is by invoking the criminal law, and he must report what he knows about all elements of the case, including the conspiracy to deprive the treasury of revenue.